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Cabinet Approves Hotel Amnesty Program for Short-Term Rental Properties

Today, Cabinet announced that it has given the Ministry of Tourism the okay to introduce legislation to parliament in the future for a Hotel Amnesty Program for unregistered short-term rental properties. This means that those who rent out their homes and small apartments to tourists under the AirBnB (air B and B) brand will have to join the formal accommodation framework. The BTB’s Abil Castañeda says that it means that these owners will have to pay their taxes.

Abil Castañeda, Director of Cruise Quality Management, BTB:In 2016, there was some work started with Airbnb which is the largest platform, online platform, that sells short term rentals and at that time when the BTB had done some analysis of the situation in terms of the unregistered properties that sell on Airbnb, VRBO and the other type of platforms, we came to the reality that we were missing a huge element of the accommodation sort of room stock. We were looking at around 30% that may not have been registered compared to where we were at that time. Now we don’t believe that has changed that much. We have done some campaigns in trying to get additional registrations for these short term rentals but we also are cognizant that the, the, I think the challenge that many of them have is a fear that if they do come in to the structured framework of hotel licensing and everything like that that they would be penalised by back taxes and all of that, which is the standard that, you know, we use if we have a new property coming in if they were for some reason or the other, were operating before they had a licence, we would go back and we would assess them and look at what type of back taxes they would owe to the Government of Belize via the Belize Tourism Board. So the idea with the amnesty program is to soften the sort of process for these unregistered properties to come into the system to be registered, to be licensed and to begin to pay their proper taxes because obviously if they’re not licensed, they’re not paying taxes at all. This is all sort of aligned with a current process we have with Airbnb. We recently had signed an M.O.U. with them after 5 / 6 years discussions with them we finally were able to finalise an agreement with them to say okay we will sit down and discuss particular areas of partnership that we can look at and one of the major ones that we will be sot of tabling at the beginning will be, how can we get the necessary information for us to know exactly who all are selling off Airbnb here in Belize. So what the reality is that after this three months of amnesty that we would be rolling out, we would have the information to know exactly who is selling off Airbnb so we will be moving towards getting them into the system.”

However, there is the argument that the taxes for large hotels and resorts should be different for those smaller accommodations because of the disparity in the services they offer. Castañeda added that those smaller owners should also adjust their services to meet currently accepted industry standards.

Abil Castañeda, Director of Cruise Quality Management, BTB:The Hotel & Tourist Accommodation Act, chapter 275 of the laws of Belize actually categorises the different types of hotels and tourist accommodations. Tourist accommodations include everything other than what we are used to considering as a traditional hotel and within those categorisations, there is already a category that speaks to vacation homes, to rental of rooms etc. and so what it means when that is in law, it means that they now need to abide by everything else that is within that law, including being licensed, including a certain, satisfying a certain minimum of requirements, minimum standards and of course including paying their fair share of taxes and so that is in law already and we are, we have been publishing notices and sharing information with the general public through our social media platforms etc. explaining that this is indeed the situation and so it’s nothing new. This has been in place for decades now but because of where the whole short term rentals is going, the shared economy sector is going, we’re seeing that being not only like a new kid on the block but actually becoming a mainstream part of the accommodation sector in any country, in any destination. We see it fit that it is time for us to bring everybody on stream so that we can ensure that there’s a proper, there’s a standard quality of experience that is provided by all of our service providers in Belize.”

Cabinet says that this amnesty is to allow for the execution of a registration process for short-term rentals.