To say that Airbnb is a global phenomenon is not farfetched.
Since inception a decade ago, Airbnb has expanded to 81,000 cities in the world, with 4.5 million listings available for booking.
400 guests checked into listings in the year 2008, but now, 400 guests are checking in every 2 minutes.
For context, 1.5 million Singaporeans checked in at Airbnbs around the world in 2017.
Listing a property on Airbnb has also proven to be a new source of income for hosts – it is reported that they have earned US$41 billion in the last 10 years.
But that’s not to say that it has been nothing but a smooth ride for the San Francisco company.
More than certain groups expressing their displeasure at the business model, regulatory frameworks have been a cause for contention – with a number of cities imposing strict restrictions on short-term rentals.
In Singapore, Parliament passed a law last February which made it illegal for private residential owners to rent out their apartments or rooms on a short-term basis (i.e. for less than 3 months) on platforms like Airbnb.
Owners will only be allowed to do so if they have permission from the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA).
In the first such prosecution in Singapore, two men were also charged in December last year for renting out four condominium units for short-term accommodation via Airbnb.
The number of private residential properties that have been investigated for breaching the minimum stay duration had similarly sharply increased from January to September in 2017, and was almost double the number investigated for each of the past few years.
However, through all of this, Airbnb has remained firm in its stance – “that an individual should, minimally, be able to share the private residence that they live in”.
Airbnb Singapore shares with us in an email:
The current laws governing short-term home sharing and rental in Singapore are some of the most restrictive in the world, but we remain committed to working with the Government on a path forward that allows everyone to benefit from home sharing.
I caught up with Airbnb’s Regional Director of Asia-Pacific Mr. Siew Kum Hong, and found out more about the platform’s challenges in Singapore, and the potential of home sharing being beneficial to various groups in Singapore – if harnessed properly.
“I Think There Has Been A Lot Of Misconceptions”
According to the platform, there are 8,100 Singapore listings currently, and 60% of hosts in Singapore sharing their own homes on an occasional basis.
On average, each host in Singapore rents out their space for 37 nights a year, and earn approximately US$3,400 annually from the arrangement.
This extra income allows the hosts to use it as supplementary income to help them pay bills and make ends meet.
However, these instances have been overshadowed by negative press of guests from hell, or enterprising property owners who have been using their assets as cash cows and therefore not properly screening guests.
This had inevitably ignited the ire of neighbouring residents.
In 2016, URA received 608 complaints regarding short-term rentals, a 60% increase from 377 in 2015.
“I think there has been a lot of misconceptions [of Airbnb hosts and short-term rental], and we’ve been working hard to clarify that,” shared Mr. Siew.
[The hosts that rent out their own homes] use that income to help pay their bills, make ends meet, and it’s all very regular, everyday people.
“And the thing is, when you’re renting out your own home, you care very deeply about the guests that you get. Hosts also ensure that they don’t disturb there neighbours, that they fit into the community – because you live there!”
Of course, this has been picked up by the Government, and there is a potential for tweaks to the current ruling, one of which being the creation of a new category of private homes that will be allowed for short-term rentals.
Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong also told Parliament recently (6 Feb) that his ministry and URA are currently “working out these regulatory parameters and will consult the public on the proposed measures before finalising them”.
Said Mr. Siew, “I look forward to what the Government has to announce, and we hope that they truly take all these considerations into account.”
Airbnb Hosting As ‘Active Ageing’ For Singapore Seniors
In the past year, more than 1.5 million Airbnb guests were hosted by seniors (60 and above) across Asia Pacific.
In Australia, India, Japan and Singapore, senior hosts are also the fastest growing host age bracket with increases of 47.81%, 45.60%, 50.67% and 27.59% respectively over the past year.
This group was also reported to have a higher percentage of five-star reviews compared to hosts from other age groups.
Enthused Mr. Siew:
Senior hosts are one of our fastest growing segments, they actually also happen to be really, really great hosts!
“So many of our Superhosts are actually senior folks. So I think that’s a lot of promise here, for Singapore.”
One of the Airbnb Experience hosts in Singapore is actually an 86-year-old great-grandma who runs Singapore’s last Taoist deity shop.
Not being able to speak English doesn’t hold her back either.
Her grandsons act as her translator, while she shares her family’s story and demonstrates the art of effigy-making.
For seniors on Airbnb, either as Home or Experience hosts, the arrangements can help give them some extra income without the need to step out of their comfort zones.
With an average annual earnings of USD$3,400 in Singapore (for Home hosts), it’s a very powerful tool when it comes to retirement funding.
“People can stay in their own homes – you don’t have to sell your place, you don’t need to downgrade, you don’t need to move into a retirement home. You can stay in your own home – the home you’ve been in for years – and you can host.”
“And you can monetise your home, which the Government always reminds us is our biggest asset without actually having to sell it.”
More than that, the arrangements also ties in closely with the concept of ‘active ageing’ – something that the Government has been pushing for in light of our rapidly ageing population.
“One of the things about retirement is actually that when people quit their jobs, if they don’t have anything to do, that can be very tough.”
“However, if you’re hosting, you can get to interact with the world, you are active, you stay engaged with society…so I think that all these other benefits from short term rentals and hosting that we’re going to see.”
“We Hope To See Fair And Progressive Regulations”
Mr. Siew didn’t mince his words when expressing his disappointment about the current ruling for home sharing.
We believe that Singapore’s current rule on home sharing is not feasible, not tenable.
He also hopes that the upcoming public consultation conducted by the Government would lead to “fair and progressive regulations that are commensurate with Singapore’s status as a hub for technology, innovation, and new business models.”
Referencing the Roadmap announced last week by co-founder and CEO Brian Chesky, which plans to put the company on the path to serving more than 1 billion guests a year by 2028, Mr. Siew shared his wish that Singapore can too be part of that goal.
“We want Singapore to be part of that Roadmap. And a big part of that is having progressive laws being introduced in Singapore.”
We’d like to thank Mr. Siew and Airbnb for their time, and for hosting us!