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AS AIRBNB'S EXECS JUMP SHIP...What Does US$6 billion buy in terms of short-term rentals?

The bods at Expedia in Seattle have obviously spent up big on a gaggle of Australian media influencers to “draw people’s attention back to the needs of regional Australia”. Not a whiff of pretext around ‘home sharing’: Expedia’s Australian corporates fly under the Stayz banner and that means ‘full-house’ commercial rentals. Those who have joined Expedia’s spin campaign include Edwina Bartholomew, Natalie Bassingthwaighte, Cameron Daddo, Alison Brahe, Jamie Durie, Adam Liaw, Benji and Zoe Marshall, Catriona Rowntree, Tom Williams and Dr Katrina Warren. Leading children’s psychologist Dr Michael Carr-Gregg is reportedly also on board “offering advice to families on how to involve their kids in the #RoadTripPledge”. What has it cost Expedia to assemble this group, along with Government Lobbying firm Barton Deakin, headed by former State Liberal Leader Peter Collins, plus Lucy Turnbull’s nephew Harry Hughes? That cost is not about to be disclosed. Expedia’s promo has little-to-nothing whatsoever to do with supporting accredited regional accommodation providers. Simone Scoppa, Stayz’s ‘resident travel expert’ says: “We have seen since travel restrictions have eased in Australia the demand to stay in a holiday home has increased significantly; where people are wanting to stay in a spacious whole home…but away from other people.” Yes, Expedia and Airbnb want full and open access to run unstaffed commercial operations from every home across our State.

Airbnb has to date commissioned Third-Party Lobbyists Richardson Coutts and Statecraft to push their agenda with Parliamentarians. Airbnb could as well rely on friends and contacts of its Head of Public Policy, Australasia, South Asia and South East Asia - the very well-connected Brent Thomas. Those ‘Friends’ linked Airbnb with Federal, State and Local Government Members and Staff, a cross section of which have of late been involved in ICAC proceedings. Another of Mr Thomas’ ‘Friends’ has just made front-page headlines - NSW Labor MP Shaoquett Moselmane has been suspended after his properties were raided by federal agents as part of an ASIO and Federal Police investigation into possible Chinese Communist Party influence. In what appears to be one of the most silent of corporate departures, last week Brent Thomas bailed from Airbnb and joined Chinese social media giant, TikTok. Valued at US$75 billion, in January 2019 an investigation by the American think tank Peterson Institute for International Economics described TikTok as a "Huawei-sized problem" that posed a national security threat to the West. Airbnb also lost Australia/New Zealand Country Manager Sam McDonagh“we are Airbnb’s most penetrated market in the world” - last year.

When it comes to the much-hyped Airbnb promise to ensure homes and apartments are COVID-19 safe, Accommodation Hosts Australia, aka Airbnb and Expedia/Stayz landlords, aren’t having a bar of Airbnb’s promised cleaning protocol. Australian Short-Term Rental Accommodation (ASTRA) Board Member Joan Bird (Snow Escape Holidays in Jindabyne) writes that Airbnb lost her, writing: “when they talked about sanitising and then germs and bacteria, no mention of the virus…Reality is that if a surface is clean and dry the virus dies”.

Yet another Queensland Airbnb landlord is reportedly devastated to find her house trashed, TVs stolen, used condoms and three underage girls asleep after ‘guests’ partied for three days. Members of Airbnb’s ‘Trusted Community’ are said to have left the owner with a $50,000 damages bill. Who gives the keys of a home to strangers?

In a win for Canadian citizens a divisional court sided with the City of Toronto and Residents Group Fairbnb Canada. Justice David L Corbett issued a bottom-line decision, which removed the last hurdle towards implementing and enforcing Toronto’s short-term rental regulations. The City passed a bylaw restricting short-term rentals in late 2017 and the rules were supposed to take effect in June 2018 but an appeal by landlords delayed the implementation of the zoning and accompanying licensing legislation. “This is a win for all Torontonians who have been squeezed out of the city’s long-term rental market by Airbnb operators who’ve turned thousands of homes into ghost hotel suits,” said Fairbnb spokesperson Thorben Wieditz after the win. And the City of Amsterdam is banning Airbnb – why not Sydney?

Expedia has US$6 billion to throw at lobbying. Not that long ago Airbnb was valued at US$31 billion. What does this sort of money buy in terms of access to NSW homes and residential communities in which we live and raise our families? Given the State Government's stated intention to make this activity a legal use of all residential premises, one might assume it guarantees influence over our NSW legislative framework.

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