North Coast residents surveyed as Airbnb listings triple

Residents' views on the impacts of short-term holiday letting differ widely across the NSW North Coast, according to the results of a Southern Cross University survey.

Most residents (71%) and approved accommodation providers (64%) favour rental caps for permanently non-hosted investment properties; while just 34% of Airbnb hosts residing in the region support day limits for such properties. There were more than 1,600 responses to the survey.

The finding is part of research aimed at giving locals a say in decision-making about how to manage short-term holiday letting in the NSW North Coast region.

The survey focussed on the area between Tweed and Kyogle in the north to Tea Gardens/Hawks Nest in the south.

Residents in 12 council areas were surveyed: Ballina, Bellingen, Clarence Valley, Coffs Harbour, Kempsey, Kyogle, Lismore, MidCoast, Nambucca, Port Macquarie-Hastings, Richmond and Tweed.

The research follows a similar study by the same Southern Cross University researchers in the Byron Shire in 2018. The project was undertaken in partnership with Destination North Coast.

Drs Tania von der Heidt, Sabine Muschter, Deborah Che and Rodney Caldicott from the School of Business and Tourism at Southern Cross University spent several months surveying 1,632 residents in the NSW North Coast region, including 320 Airbnb hosts, 169 approved accommodation providers and 1143 other residents.

Dr Muschter said one significant finding was slightly more than two-thirds of approved accommodation providers and other residents believed caps are needed when the property is without a host - temporarily or permanently.

"In other words, most residents favour a model involving mandatory on-site management for any short-term holiday letting," said Dr Muschter.

The majority of the short-term holiday lettings are listed on online rental platforms, notably Airbnb.

Across the 12 council areas Airbnb listings increased 371% over the past three years - from 1,372 at the end of 2016 to 6,456 at the end of 2019.

The rate of growth in the 12 council areas has outpaced that of the Byron Shire, which grew by 195% in the same time period, albeit from a higher base. In December 2016 the number of Airbnb properties in Byron (1,172) was already more than three times as high as that of the next biggest tourist destination in the North Coast - Tweed - which had just 289 Airbnb listings at end of 2016.

Dr von der Heidt said the data suggests the other surveyed council areas are following the Airbnb trend that started in Byron Shire.

She said the study demonstrated a diverse range of perceptions of the sector with many championing the positive impact to tourism, the local economy and employment, while around half of the respondents highlighted social impacts such as traffic, parking and neighbourhood lifestyle and called for more regulation.

"While Airbnb hosts did not wish for their operations to be regulated, most approved accommodation providers and other residents want more regulation on short-term holiday letting including adequate reporting avenues to lodge complaints of misconduct, appropriate enforcement of non-compliance, and the introduction of compulsory public liability insurance for guests and third parties," Dr von der Heidt said.

According to the latest data from Destination North Coast, the NSW North Coast's multiple tourist hubs are valued at approximately $12.5 million per day. Even though tourism generates 9.4 per cent of regional jobs and supports 7,000 business, the North Coast faces many tourism pressures, including the burgeoning peer-to-peer accommodation platforms.

Michael Thurston from Destination North Coast said the survey has demonstrated the diversity of opinions towards the short-term holiday letting sector.

"While it is clear there is a desire for greater transparency and some additional regulations for short-term holiday letting, there also appears to be strong acknowledgement of the positive economic impact, job opportunities and increased appeal for prospective destinations that it delivers to communities.

"Short-term holiday letting is a vital component of the tourism industry providing the most flexible form of accommodation in terms of housing guests but also increasing capacity to support peak periods and events but the sector must work with communities to mitigate its impact," he said.

The survey results for each of the 12 councils and for the combined region were presented to Destination North Coast on January 6. The results will be available to individual councils to consider making formal submission to the NSW Government in relation to The Fair-Trading Amendment (Short-term rental accommodation) Bill 2018.

The bill allows hosts to rent out accommodation for up to 365 days per year (exceptions apply for Greater Sydney), but also provides an opportunity for councils to reduce that 365-day limit to no less than 180 days per year for properties without onsite-management.

"This latest research project provides knowledge about the local context that will contribute locally to inform civic decision-making that can guide future management for the STHL sector," Dr von der Heidt said.

The full report across all councils is available here. STHL Survey Results February 2020