Today the Cabinet announced that it had given the Department of Tourism permission to introduce legislation in Parliament for a hotel amnesty scheme for unregistered short-term rental properties in the future. This means that those who rent their houses and small apartments to tourists under the AirBnB brand (air B and B) will have to join the formal accommodation framework. BTB’s Abil Castañeda says that means those owners will have to pay their taxes.
Abil Castañeda, Director of Cruise Quality Management, BTB: “In 2016, work started with Airbnb which is the biggest platform, online platform, which sells short term rentals and at that time when the BTB had done an analysis of the situation in terms of properties not that are selling on Airbnb, VRBO and the other type of platforms, we realized that we were missing a huge element of the room stock type of accommodation. We were looking at about 30% that may not have been recorded from where we were at the time. Now, we don’t think that has changed that much. We’ve been campaigning to try to get additional listings for these short-term rentals, but we’re also aware that the, the, I think the challenge that a lot of them have is the fear that if they come in within the structured framework of hotel licensing and all that kind of thing they would be penalized with back taxes and all that, which is the standard that, you know, we use if we have a new property coming in if, for some reason it was working before they had a license we would go back and assess them and look at what kind of tax arrears they owed to the Government of Belize through the Tourism Board from Belize. So the idea with the amnesty program is to relax the kind of process for these unregistered properties to come into the system to be registered, get a license and start paying their own taxes, because obviously if they don’t are not allowed, they are not to pay taxes at all. This is all kind of aligned with a current process that we have with Airbnb. We had recently signed a memorandum of understanding with them after 5/6 years of discussions with them we were finally able to finalize an agreement with them to say okay we will sit down and discuss particular areas of partnership that we can look at and one of the main ones that we’re going to drop off at the start will be, how can we get the information we need so we know exactly who all of them are selling Airbnb here in Belize. So what is the reality that after these three months of amnesty that we were going to put in place, we would have the information to know exactly who is selling Airbnb, so we are going to move towards their entry into the system.
However, there is the argument that taxes for large hotels and resorts should be different for smaller accommodations due to the disparity in services they offer. Castañeda added that these small owners should also adjust their services to meet currently accepted industry standards.
Abil Castañeda, Director of Cruise Quality Management, BTB: “The Hotels and Tourist Accommodations Act, Chapter 275 of the Laws of Belize, actually categorizes the different types of hotels and tourist accommodations. Tourist accommodation includes everything that we are used to considering as a traditional hotel and within these categorizations there is already a category that talks about holiday homes, room rentals, etc. and so what that means when it’s in the law is means they now have to abide by everything that’s in that law, including being licensed, including a certain, satisfying a certain minimum requirements, minimum standards and of course including paying their fair share of taxes and so it’s already in the law and we are, we have published notices and shared information with the general public through our platforms social media, etc. explaining that this is indeed the situation and therefore not new. This has been in place for decades now, but because of the evolution of the whole short-term rentals, sharing economy sector, we find that not only are we like a newcomer to the neighborhood, but in fact becoming an integral part of the accommodation industry in any country, in any destination. We feel it is time for us to get everyone up and running so that we can ensure that there is an appropriate and standard quality of experience that is provided by all of our service providers in Belize.
Cabinet says this amnesty must allow a registration process to be carried out for short-term rentals.