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Airbnb slams Aussie council's divisive new plan: 'Irreversible consequences'

Airbnb has hit out at Byron Shire Council's landmark plan to restrict properties in the majority of suburbs in the tourist hotspot to just 90 days of short-term holiday rentals.

The move has proven divisive, with council and its supporters arguing its implementation will help fix the rental crisis in the area yet those who oppose the move say it will have a devastating impact on the local economy.

Byron Bay in NSW's Northern Rivers region is one of Australia's most popular tourism towns, with the pandemic only resulting in a surge in domestic tourism to the area, further exasperating the region's rental crisis.

Global home rental platform Airbnb said council's proposal must be "urgently reconsidered", saying it is "highly unlikely" it will work.

Byron Bay is facing a rental crisis, with council pressing ahead with a divisive plan to help improve the availability of long-term rentals. Source: Getty
Byron Bay is facing a rental crisis, with council pressing ahead with a divisive plan to help improve the availability of long-term rentals. Source: Getty

"A 90-night cap will place hosts in Byron Shire on a vastly unequal footing, and ultimately hurt guests, local businesses and communities across the area by reducing choice, availability, and affordability of accommodation," Michael Crosby, Head of Public Policy for Australia, said in a release.

Mr Crosby said it was unlikely the move would increase the availability of affordable housing but could have "irreversible consequences for the town's economy".

Properties are currently restricted by statewide legislation to 180 non-hosted short-term rental days a year.

Byron mayor says Airbnb is only considering tourists

Byron Shire Mayor Michael Lyon questioned whether Airbnb see the council's proposition as "a threat" which could lead to other areas potentially legislating against them.

"It's the sort of smoke and mirrors you'd expect (from Airbnb)," he told Yahoo News Australia.

"There were quite a lot of ironic comments about how it's going to reduce affordability and of course they're just talking about the tourist and visitor accomodation."

Byron Mayor Michael Lyon was not impressed with Airbnb's response to council's plan. Source: Byron Shire Council
Byron Mayor Michael Lyon was not impressed with Airbnb's response to council's plan. Source: Byron Shire Council

Mr Lyon said council's plan was aimed at firstly avoiding the "critical danger" of losing further properties to the short-term market.

"There's such a dearth of long-term rental opportunities. We just cannot afford to lose more housing stock.

"There's just nowhere else to live. It's not like a city where you can just move into the next suburb. In Byron, there aren't options like that."

Mr Lyon rejected claims the economy would suffer due to a feared drop in visitor numbers, saying hotels would benefit from more bookings while those short-term lets with far fewer bookings will move closer to the 90-day cap.

Yet he said data indicated the number of visitors to the region is continuously on the rise and it is vital council acts now.

Data obtained by Inside Airbnb, an international group researching the impact of Airbnb on residential communities, shows short-term rentals in the Byron Shire are rented out for an average 57 days a year, earning an average $21,433 per annum.

Airbnb 'thinking of themselves'

Mr Lyon argued there was no "balance" in the town, which was hampering the economy and stemmed from a lack of accomodation for those who work in the region.

"If you walk around the town right now, any hospitality venue you go to will have a staff wanted sign up. Our local council has 40 positions available. This is across the board, so any increase in the availability of long-term rental stock is going to be welcomed.

Byron remains as popular as ever, with Mr Lyon saying visitor numbers are on the rise. Source: Getty
Byron remains as popular as ever, with Mr Lyon saying visitor numbers are on the rise. Source: Getty

"But Airbnb don't want to talk about that, they only want to talk about themselves and what's good for them. They need a proper dose of corporate social responsibility."

Not all suburbs to be restricted

A number of suburbs would be exempt from the rule such as Wategos Beach which are "very clearly" tourism areas and would not provide affordable housing. These will be entitled to 365 days a year of short-term lets.

Mr Crosby said this would "deeply divide the community" and create unnecessary tension.

Mr Crosby said Airbnb was willing to offer "real solutions" to tackle the issue, yet their suggestion of a tourist levy had already been considered.

"We've wanted to effectively put in a bed tax for decades but that is something that state government has categorically ruled out," Mr Lyon said.

Brisbane City Council is one region that is implementing higher rates for short-term rental owners.

Byron Shire Council must finalise their planning proposal by June 24 next year after "thoroughly considering all of the submissions received during exhibition of the proposal".

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