A Government Partnership with Airbnb; but Thai Law Remains Ambiguous

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Airbnb, the world’s leading community-driven hospitality company, and the Thailand Ministry of Interior’s Department of Local Administration (DLA), have announced the ‘Empowering Local Tourism Entrepreneurs’ partnership; Airbnb’s first official partnership with a government agency in Thailand.

Through the partnership, Airbnb and the DLA will work together to train local provincial officials on hospitality, hosting and compliance standards; and onboard existing homestays onto Airbnb’s global platform. However In Thailand there are two ambiguous laws related to Airbnb. Suttipong Juljarern, Director-General, Department of Local Administration, Ministry of Interior, and Mike Orgill, Airbnb Director of Public Policy for Asia Pacific, jointly launched the partnership at Chulalongkorn University Alumni Association. As part of the partnership, Airbnb and the Ministry of Interior’s DLA agree to: Conduct training sessions focused on sharing information about Airbnb, and how to use the platform to distribute tourism income to local communities across Thailand Train officials on hospitality, hosting and compliance standards to raise the quality of local homestays Equip officials with the digital literacy skills to help locals create and manage their own listings Build a local community of hosts in each province who can support and learn from each other The launch was followed by a country-first joint training workshop with guest speakers from the Ministry of Interior’s Department of Provincial Administration and the Thai Immigration Bureau. Over 100 Thai officials attended the workshop including representatives from the Provincial Office for Local Administrations, and selected local administrative organisations in the tourism sector across the provinces of Chiang Mai, Chonburi, Chiang Rai, Nakhon Ratchasima, Buriram, Ayutthaya, Phetchaburi, Songkhla, Satun, Ubon Ratchathani and Sukhothai. Suttipong Juljarern says that “digital technology fosters real-time audiovisual communication and connections between local communities and guests around the world, and will surely encourage economic development in rural areas. This will help us achieve the United Nations’ and the Royal Thai Government’s goals to alleviate poverty, as this additional stream of revenue for locals means the improvement of their living standards in all respects.” Many Airbnb listings compete against hotel industry offerings, yet hosts that operate through Airbnb do not pay taxes, nor do they have the necessary safety standards that are required from hotels and serviced apartments. Suttipong Juljarern says “the Department believes the partnership with Airbnb will strengthen communities across the country and encourage the formation of a comprehensive ecosystem for tourism management.” The core of Airbnb’s problem in Thailand is that there are currently no laws that specifically address Airbnb’s business model. Two Airbnb hosts were each fined 5,000 THB by the Hua Hin Provincial Court this year over their roles in providing unauthorised short-term stays, each with varying daily fines for the duration of the offence. In Thailand, there are two ambiguous laws related to Airbnb. The 2004 Hotel Act prohibits landlords of properties from providing short-term rentals for a period of less than 30 days without a hotel license. The 2008 Ministerial Regulation, which governs hotel operations, contains clauses that would exclude short-term rental properties, specifically guest houses or properties with four rooms or less and/or can accommodate no more than 20 guests, from being considered as a hotel. To some extent, renting out private houses on Airbnb is comparable to operating a guest house because these properties operate in a small scale, whereby single guests/groups are easily monitored. However, problems tend to happen when condominium owners start renting out their units through Airbnb. Condominium buildings have many different owners, some of whom are owner-occupiers and others who rent out properties to medium- to long-term tenants, who make these condos their home. These tenants would not approve of any disturbance and potential safety issue often caused by short-term transient guests who rent rooms on a daily or weekly basis. This explains why many condominium juristic entities are putting up notices prohibiting Airbnb in their buildings and often refer to the 2004 Hotel Act. It remains to be seen what the standardised penalty will be and how severely it will be enforced on lawbreakers.

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