Chamber of Commerce: Airbnb the largest providers of rental rooms in Fernie

The Fernie Chamber of Commerce is hoping to educate the public on Airbnb and other online rental accommodation services.

The Fernie Chamber of Commerce is hoping to educate the public on Airbnb and other online rental accommodation services. Online rental services have grown in resort communities across British Columbia, and according to the Chamber, are becoming the largest accommodator in the Fernie area.

Airbnb is an online platform that allows consumers to find rental accommodations on a nightly, weekly or monthly basis. The San Francisco-based company started in 2008 and has grown into a multi-million dollar company, with over 1.5 million listings in 34,000 cities. The Chamber says there are negative local impacts to on communities due to the increase of online rental vendors such as Airbnb, including decreased availability of long-term rental homes and decreased tax revenues.

“At the Chamber, we watch what is happening in business and what is happening going on around us. We saw this come up in Tofino, Revelstoke and other resort communities. The Chamber wanted to better understand how that impacts our local commerce and our local economy,” said the Director of the Chamber of Commerce, Patty Vadnais. “After seeing what was happening in these other communities, we reached out to some of the accommodators to say how is this impacting you? We also reached out to the city to say how is this impacting the city?”

There are 88 listings for accommodations in Fernie on Airbnb, ranging in price from $50 to $1,500 per night. The average nightly cost is $193. A portion of the accommodations are operating outside of the current city bylaws, according to Vadnais.

“With the City, we went through the current zoning bylaws, and we looked at how a number of these Bed and Breakfast facilities or operations are actually operating outside of the current bylaw,” she said. “For example, a full suite rental on a weekly or nightly basis is not allowed in a residential zone. So that is the discussion we had with the City, that in our residential zone, weekly and nightly rental of a full house is not an allowed use.”

City of Fernie bylaw 1750 addresses the single-detached residences or secondary homes within residential zones. In an Apr. 5 press release, the Chamber said, “It was created by the City to support development of rental suites to assist with the long-term housing rental availability. As owners chose the short-term or nightly rental model over long-term rental, there is a decrease in affordable long-term housing.”

The City also has a set of regulations for Bed and Breakfast operations, including that they have to be owner occupied, not provide more than three rooms for paying guests and provide parking spaces for their guests. Along with these regulations, Bed and Breakfasts must have a proper business license. Currently, there is only one licensed residential Bed and Breakfast and three commercial Bed and Breakfasts in Fernie, which does not match the 88 listings on Airbnb. It should be noted that many of the listings on Airbnb fall outside of City limits, such as residences located at Fernie Alpine Resort or in the Regional District of East Kootenay.

Another negative impact of online rental platforms is a decrease in taxes. Local hotels and rental companies collect Hotel tax and Government Sales tax (GST). The Chamber says the community is losing out on some tax funds, as some of that money would be re-invested into the community to provide support for infrastructure and grants. Airbnb and other platforms also have an impact on the Resort Municipality Initiative (RMI) funding it receives from the province. Those funds are directed at creating tourist attractions in Fernie, such as the Summer Social Wednesday Concert Series and supporting local clubs, like the Rod and Gun Club and the Fernie Snowmobile Association.

The Chamber is hoping to provide education on residential zones and bylaws.

“The first thing we want to do is educate our community – what are the residential zones that Airbnb is allowed in, and if it is allowed in that residential zone, that it follows the Bed and Breakfast requirements in the zoning bylaw,” said Vadnais. “Our first step, and we are going to work on this with the City, is to educate people in the residential zones. Airbnb is a new option that consumers are looking at, that’s great. Let’s just make sure that we are protecting our community. The zoning bylaws are in place to make a great community, let’s start and make sure that those are being enforced.”

Vadnais hopes owners of suites and Airbnb listings will follow the best business practices, as it will benefit them in the long run.

“Airbnb is getting pressure across the country, across North America, to follow the regulations that other accommodators have to follow, whether it is collecting a tourist tax or getting their owners to report the income that they are making on the programs,” she said. “It would be a pre-emptive step for owners of Airbnbs to look at following those sorts of regulations.”