Cape Hillsborough Nature Tourist Park.
Cape Hillsborough Nature Tourist Park. Daryl Wright

'I just can't compete': Tourist parks frustrated by Airbnb

THE widespread and costly effects of an "unfair" Airbnb industry are causing despair and anger among North Queensland tourist park operators and are prompting urgent calls for regulation that included fines and prosecution.

Park owners and industry heads want the online marketplace for holiday rentals to be accountable to the same State Government standards as other short-term rentals, or face the consequences, in a bid to increase safety and reduce the competitive threat overshadowing local businesses.

Cape Hillsborough Nature Tourist Park owner Ben Atherton said this week he despaired that nothing would be done to curb the Airbnb industry which was "definitely" affecting his cabin bookings.

Mr Atherton said it was difficult to determine the impact of the Airbnb industry over Easter as the threat of Cyclone Iris had caused cancellations.

Overall, he said, increased numbers of tourists were visiting the beach - which his caravan park overlooks - to see the kangaroos and wallabies the area is famous for, but they were staying elsewhere.

He said Airbnb property rental sites promoted the kangaroos and wallabies as part of their reason to visit the area, but they were not financially supporting Mackay Tourism.

"We're seeing these massive amounts of tourists coming to the beach now, and you know that over 60% of them are not staying in your park.

"We have had an accommodation provider down the road, who this time last year was renting out their back yard on Airbnb at a discounted price and they used the kangaroos and wallabies on the beach to promote that. We pay our fees to Mackay Tourism. Airbnb doesn't put any funding into that. It's not industry-focussed but the providers are utilisers of all our resources."

Numbers haven't dropped at his park, Mr Atherton said, but he hasn't seen the increases he would have expected either.

"If we were picking up the additional numbers that are coming to the beach every day, we'd be absolutely booming. And I just can't compete with $58 rooms on Airbnb."

Mr Atherton, who is also on the board for Caravanning Queensland, said the last time he Googled accommodation for Cape Hillsborough, 127 Airbnb options were available.

"How can we compete ... ? To say the competition is massive is an understatement.

"There has to be regulation. If it's good enough to put regulations on us, then it has to be a fair playing field. And how many local people does Airbnb employ? It's a billion dollar industry and we're losing all our profit margins overseas."

Accommodation Association of Australia CEO Richard Munro said it was frustrating for parks to "see their businesses being swallowed up" by the Airbnb industry.

"Our members go to a lot of due diligence to comply to standards and it's an expensive exercise. The advantage Airbnb has is they're operating in an opaque fashion ... no one knows where they are."

Mr Munro said that over the past year the association had been calling on the State Government - who are now reviewing the situation - to impose million dollar fines for operators who weren't abiding by State Legislation.

He said the enforcement of legislation - which mandates for safety standards compliance including alarms, sprinklers, evacuation plans, and disabled access - was up to local councils who were not able to do anything because they did not know where the businesses were located.

"That's the issue and that's why they operate like they do. They can't identify proponents because they don't disclose addresses. And so what we're seeing is cowboy operations ...

"There's no intervention being applied by government and there's no standards being set by Airbnb. We're placing people in hazardous situations."

The government should introduce fines and prosecute where necessary, he said.

"In Mackay, after the mining downturn, you're seeing the legitimate operations hurting. They've invested a life's savings and they've invested to a high specification and they're seeing their customers walk off to a cheaper alternative."

Tas Webber, General Manager of Mackay Tourism, said he was working closely with local and state governments to understand the impacts of shared economies, including Airbnb, and work out the best models for moving forward.

He said it was important tourism operators could compete on a level playing field.

Mackay Mayor Greg Williamson said the Local Government Association of Queensland had formed a working group to look into issues including how to access relevant information so councils could act, including where properties were. But, he said, regulation needed to be driven by the State Government.

"We know what the issues are, but our problem is getting the information so we can actually regulate it. This has to be driven by the State Government and then council can move into a regulatory environment."

Cr Williamson said "cities all over the world" were struggling with how to police the online short-term rental market.

"We don't have the resources to go and track them all down. They just multiply every week and there is a real concern. From our perspective it's really public safety that we're concerned about, and we need a regulated environment for the public to feel safe."