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Airbnb, 'the Uber of the hospitality world,' causing waves in Guelph

Airbnb lets people rent rooms in their homes and dodge the rules and regulations traditional hotels and bed and breakfast establishments have to follow
Janet Perry stands outside her Norfolk Guest House Bed and Breakfast on Eramosa Road. Tony Saxon/

It's been called the Uber of the hospitality industry and it's a growing concern in Guelph.

Or, according to Mayor Cam Guthrie, possibly part of a growing opportunity for the city.

Airbnb is an online service that lets people rent space in their homes and apartments over the Internet while pretty much avoiding the many rules, regulations and costs that govern the hospitality industry.

People list their rooms online, charging whatever they want and travellers go to the site to book and pay for the room. Airbnb makes its money by taking 3 percent of the room rental cost. It provides some form of insurance.

A recent Saturday saw 21 different rentals available in Guelph, everything from a small basement bedroom for $39 a night to a full house for $192.

And, just like Uber is upsetting the taxi industry, people in the hospitality sector are upset that Airbnb creates an unfair situation.

"The playing field, on multiple levels, is not even close," says Janet Perry, the owner of Norfolk Guest house Bed and Breakfast who has been in the bed and breakfast industry for 25 years.

"It's about fairness. If you are going to make an industry follow these regulations, why not create equal regulations for this new industry that's popped up?" Perry says.

Doug Godfrey, Guelph's Manager of By-law Compliance and Security, said the city responds to complaints when it gets them, which it has.

"We're aware of some public concerns about them," Godfrey said. "To date, no charges have been issued, as the locations have either complied or were not in the violation of the by-law."

Perry says she has spent thousands renovating and improving her five-star bed and breakfast and continues to spend money every year on licences, alarm systems, insurance and inspections necessary for her business. Airbnb has no such rules.

"I'm all for competition, but you can't just have a few holding the bar and the rest walking under it," Perry said.

Airbnb, started in 2008 by a couple of San Francisco roommates looking to make a quick buck on a weekend that saw hotels overbooked, now operates in over 34,000 cities in 191 different countries and has been valued at over $25 billion.

"How do we embrace the sharing economy? It's not going away," Perry says.

Mayor Cam Guthrie says there has to be some middle ground between the shared economy and traditional services while still maintaining safety and standards.

"It is something that's going to have to be addressed. We can't hide our head in the sand on this anymore," Guthrie said.

"My preference is that we, as a city, embrace the shared economy. Work with all stakeholders to make it work."

Guthrie believes the solution may lay somewhere in the middle ground.

"In Janet's case, what is it that needs to be done? Do we need to come down on people who are choosing an Airbnb type of option, or do we look to deregulate someone like Janet?

"Do we have to bring people up to the standard, in that the standard may be too high, or do we need to help people like Janet maybe move down. Where maybe the regulations she faces are too burdensome. These are the types of things we need to be looking at."

The city passed a motion earlier this week that will see staff look into the issue of unlicensed bed and breakfasts operating in the city. But that report from staff won't happen until next year.

Guthrie is looking for a broader report on the entire shared economy.

And it's not just about the handful of local bed and breakfast establishments that are upset. Airbnb is having a huge impact on the hotel industry, which is the bigger reason the provincial and Federal governments are looking into it.

Perry points out that there are also concerns local rental markets are being impacted, as landlords realize they can make more money with less hassle by renting rooms through Airbnb than as a licenced landlord.

"There are multiple levels of unfairness," says Perry. "It's not just about competition."


Tony Saxon

About the Author: Tony Saxon

Tony Saxon has had a rich and varied 30 year career as a journalist, an award winning correspondent, columnist, reporter, feature writer and photographer.
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