Newfoundland and Labrador is bringing in new regulations to move unlicensed accommodations like Airbnbs in line with licensed operators, forcing them to be registered with the provincial government by this time next year.
Tourism Minister Steve Crocker, announcing the regulations Tuesday, said the former Tourism Establishment Act has been renamed the Tourism Accommodations Act. The change will require all short-term accommodations, like Airbnbs or other short-term rentals, to register with the province and follow the same municipal and provincial regulations as established tourism operators.
Any accommodations currently licensed by the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts and Recreation will be automatically registered under the new regulations, but those who aren’t will have to register by March 31, 2024. The registration process will be free, Crocker said.
If they don’t register, Crocker said, the province will work with online marketing platforms to make sure unlicensed accommodations can’t be advertised.
“If you’re not registered, and let’s be clear, by March 31, 2024, you will no longer have access to the platforms,” Crocker said.
Crocker said changes needed to be made to modernize the Tourism Establishment Act, which was introduced in the 1970s, to better reflect the current tourism industry. He said there has been an increase in unlicensed accommodations around the province, which can lead to a lack of health and safety measures.
Data from Destination St. John’s suggests there are more than 800 unlicensed operators on the northeastern Avalon Peninsula alone, where there were 68,000 room nights booked with unlicensed operators, who made $14 million in revenue last year.
“Our partners and our members are telling us that it is an unfair playing field … and that is the case,” said Destination St. John’s chair Heather McKinnon.
“This is the next step to make this a level and fair playing field.”
Deborah Bourden, chair of Hospitality Newfoundland and Labrador, says the changes are welcome. She hopes they will bring a stronger level of professionalism to the industry and unite traditional and non-traditional tourism operators.
“We’re excited about where this might lead us as an industry,” Bourden said Tuesday.
“We always strive to be seen as always operating professionally. It’s so important that we have these regulations there so that the short-term [accommodations] that are currently operating … are welcomed into our industry, that we have this level playing field so we can all move forward.”
Crocker said the new regulations aren’t meant to crack down on the number of short-term accommodations around Newfoundland and Labrador, saying they do have a place in the future of the industry — especially in rural areas where more traditional tourism accommodations aren’t as prevalent.
“I hope we do see more Airbnbs or more people on these platforms. Because, you know, I think of my own region of the province that I represent. We do not have a lot of what I would [call] traditionally established tourism operators,” said Crocker, the MHA for Carbonear-Trinity-Bay de Verde.
“[But] this is a professional industry, and we expect everybody to live up to that professional standard.”