Airbnb is Not Going Away Anytime Soon

Peter Slobodzian, Chair of Licencing & Regulation Committee, contributes an opinion piece to this month’s MLOA newsletter on the subject of Airbnb.

by Peter Slobodzian

It is reasonable to say that there has never been a time in history when innovation has not affected changes in how business is done.

Take a moment to consider the process of booking a group at your camp or resort in 2018. It is not uncommon to have an initial inquiry converted to an e-transferred deposit, all in less than an hour. Some of us have been around long enough to recall the postal volley that went on to generate that same booking just twenty years ago. New tools change how things are done.

The Internet – the very technology that facilitates promotions and bookings for lodges and outfitters, has become a vehicle for many others to pursue their market as well.  MLOA members have expressed concerns about the impact that Airbnb, cottage and rural rentals are having on their businesses. This has been very concerning for those who happen to be observing the growth of cottage rentals in their district. It becomes especially troubling when an outfitter knows that local cottage owners are catering to a client-base that parallels theirs.

We have all talked about it and yes, Provincial Finance should take a business approach: do a financial projection, re-assess the lost tax revenue, and come up with a strategy to capture those lost dollars.  It is a cash cow for the Province and it would be lucrative.

Later this fall, representatives from the MLOA membership will meet with Manitoba Sustainable Development to begin a process of reviewing the licencing regulations. Without a doubt, the definition of who is referred to as a “licensed outfitter” is on the agenda. But, while we look forward to that, I feel encouraged to ask our membership to reflect on a few points.

If we could all take a moment to examine our individual spreadsheets and try to identify the amount of lost revenue that might be attributed to this underground economy, what would that be? Might the explosion in cottage rental indirectly be generating a new pool of clients for us all.  Consider that these renters are folks who are taking a serious look at vacations in the outdoors. Might this be creating a new audience for us? If this is a resource, how can we tap into it? What do we offer at our operation that basic cottage or rural rentals do not? Do we just rent rooms or are we always there to greet, help, and connect with our guests?  What is your “added value”? Collectively, can our membership explore ways of turning ugly into great?

A very wise man told me that we should always look for the rose; he said that often we’d find one in amongst the thorns. Whenever possible, my father would look at ways to turn a challenge into opportunity.  I invite all of us to think about what we offer to our customers – our packages and our services. We are so much more than a space in a cottage or basement suite at a farmhouse. Would it be valuable for all of us to take a serious look at what we do best and then maybe even look at ways of tweaking it a bit? Are we doing the ordinary, extra-ordinarily well already? Yes, it’s difficult not to see cottage rental as competition, but is there an opportunity here?