Fighting Back Against Airbnb, French Canadian Style

The Canadian province of Quebec, with a population of some 8,200,000, is known as the last great bastion of the French language in North America. French Canadians, as they are better known, enjoy a joie de vivre unique to this continent – thousands of square kilometers of untouched wilderness, great skiing and cheeses that rival even that of their ancestral nation of France. While you’ve all marveled at pictures (or had the pleasure of visiting) the Fairmont le Chateau Frontenac, other visitors with more modest resources stay at smaller bed and breakfast establishments that the province is known for.

These fiercely independent properties are regulated by Quebec law as well as through licenses which cover safety, health and other related matters. These B&B owners also pay commercial property tax, contribute to local tourism contributions (in essence, another tax), and provincial and federal sales taxes. In a nutshell, these are good corporate citizens and true hoteliers, admittedly on a smaller scale than the Fairmont.

For those not bombarded with Canadian news media, let it be known that Quebec is unlike any other place in North American. Not only are their civil laws based upon French rather than British statutes, but they have an insular, wholly traditional sensibility in addition to a fiercely independent spirit that rivals even that of the interlopers who attended a certain tea party in Boston. In other words: come and enjoy our land, but don’t try and change a thing, especially if your company is a six-letter word called ‘Airbnb’.

It is with this strength and obstinacy of character that has made Quebec somewhat of a trendsetter in the hospitality industry with the recent tabling of Bill 67, which would force Airbnb hosts to comply with the same taxes paid by licensed hotel properties.

“Everyone is going to play on the same rink.” remarked Quebec Tourism Minister Dominique Vien at a press conference, no doubt drawing a parallel to the NHL and the beloved Montreal Canadiens! She also went on to talk about the huge amount of tax that would be recouped in provincial coffers that the bill’s passage would impose on Airbnb operators (and their guests as a through-put).

Ms. Vien went on to say, “It is inequitable, unsafe and just not fair.” I couldn’t agree more. Hotels go through a literal ton of red tape to obey the rules of the road, and it’s unjust that Airbnb has been able to circumnavigate these stipulations which are in place to first and foremost protect guests from harm.

The proposed bill is being supported by an increase in government inspectors (from 2 to 18) and fines imposed on violators of a minimum $500 to a maximum of $100,000. Too bad Ms. Vien couldn’t run for governor in your state!

Hoteliers out there, what are you waiting for? If Quebec can bring such legislation to the voting floor, why can’t you? We know Airbnb is not going away. Most of us simply want what Quebec is proposing: the same rules for everyone.

Is this going to be another case – like the OTAs a decade ago – where we all wake up and say that our distribution system has been taken over and there is nothing we can do? Can we count on getting some leadership from the mega-chains, each with a phalanx of legal beagles on staff? Obviously, Quebec isn’t the only jurisdiction that is taking action, but will such regulations be passed in time before your hotel customers are converted to Airbnb customers?

(Article by Larry Mogelonsky, published in Hotels Magazine on Tuesday, October 27, 2015)

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