Busselton accommodation provider lets staff go as guest numbers decline

Inn The Tuarts Guest Lodge owner Suzanne Keynes would like to see the number of residential short stay accommodation houses capped after being forced to let go of staff due to a significant decline in guest numbers over the last six month.
Inn The Tuarts Guest Lodge owner Suzanne Keynes would like to see the number of residential short stay accommodation houses capped after being forced to let go of staff due to a significant decline in guest numbers over the last six month.

A devastated Busselton accommodation provider has been forced to let a valued staff member go as they could no longer financially afford the wages as a result of declining guests numbers.

Suzanne Keynes has run her business for more than 10 years and attributed the problem to the growing number of residential short stay accommodation places in the region.

During the decade Ms Keynes has run her hotel, she has employed young people straight out of school who had no work experience or skills and offered them training and mentoring in the industry.

Ms Keynes had been training and mentoring Lauren Cotton for the past 18 months, saying she was now skilled and experienced enough to run the business.

"Financially I could not keep her, and it has just been devastating."

Ms Keynes said since September there had been a significant decline in turnover, and prior to the decline, their forecasts had shown their business was in line to increase turnover again this year.

"We are talking a 25 to 30 per cent decline," she said.

"We had our best figures at the beginning of last year, then I noticed in September a sharp drop off, now it is getting worse and worse."

For Lauren Cotton, the news about her beloved job came as quite a shock and after sharing a few tears with her employer she is not sure what direction she will take.

"It was obviously a shock and upsetting, now I am unsure whether to continue in the same industry," she said.

"I lost my job because of the industry and I am questioning whether to go back to it, it is hard. When I moved here one of the things Busselton had going for it was hospitality, now you have to be careful."

Data from Tourism WA shows the Busselton region has experienced 15 per cent growth in overnight visitors over the last five years. The data also shows 8 per cent of visitors to WA stay in the region.

Number of residential short stay accommodation homes in region

City of Busselton director of planning and development services Paul Needham confirmed there were 773 residential dwellings that were registered as short stay accommodation across the region with a further 50 awaiting approval.

According to data from bnb Guard, there were a total of 1500 residential properties available to rent for short stay accommodation in the Busselton region.

These figures reveal there were just as many unregistered homes being used as short stay accommodation than there were registered with the city.

It also made around 8.5 per cent of housing in the Busselton region short stay accommodation, using Australian Bureau of Statistics data from 2016.

Impacts to the wider community

Ms Keynes said it was her business to know what was happening in the holiday market and there were now so many people doing quasi hotels in residential areas.

She said some were illegal, unlicensed, did not meet safety requirements and were taking such a big chunk of the market that registered operators could not survive.

"If we go, so do the jobs, because these providers do not employ people, or train people, or host their accommodation," she said.

"The impact on our industry has just started to be felt in the last six months so dramatically it is resulting in job losses."

Along with less opportunities for job seekers, Ms Keynes said the ripple effect to other sectors of the community would also be felt.

"We would spend around $50,000 a year on upgrades, renovations, new gardens, pergolas and would use local tradesmen, it is not happening now, we cannot do it," she said.

"There is an imbalance and if this trend continues traditional accommodation providers cannot stay in business.

"We use local suppliers, if our income goes down everything goes down, it has a huge impact right across the community."

Regulation

A parliamentary inquiry, triggered by a motion submitted by Warren Blackwood MLA Terry Redman, is looking into short-stay accommodation and will hold a meeting in Margaret River later this month to hear from accommodation providers.

The Economics and Industry Standing Committee is looking into regulating short-stay accommodation in WA and is due to report its findings to parliament on June 27.

Shadow tourism minister Libby Mettam said following advocacy at a local level with the traditional operators in the region she advocated for a state led approach to short stay accommodation.

Ms Mettam said there was clearly an outstanding issue where hotels and resorts were competing with operators without the same sort of compliance burdens.

She said platforms like Airbnb added choice in the tourism sector and filled a gap in the market especially during special events and peak holiday periods in regional WA.

“While there are outstanding issues where hotels and resorts are competing with operators without the same sort of compliance burdens," she said.

"We also do not want people who are renting out their back room to have prohibitive regulatory standards imposed on them.

“We need a fairer, more level playing field, which could mean either expanding the regulatory framework or making it easier for mainstream accommodation providers.”

Ms Mettam said there had been 1200 jobs losses across the tourism sector in the last financial year, and that 44 per cent of tourism jobs were located in regional WA.

“It is very clear that tourism is no longer a front and centre area of responsibility, highlighted by the Premiers recent launch of the McGowan Governments new ‘key priorities,’ where tourism barely rated a mention," she said.

“This Government has cut funding for tourism in real terms over the past two budgets and has budgeted further declines of about 2.4 per cent."

Airbnb

Airbnb head of public policy Australia NZ Brent Thomas said the real issue was that WA tourism was struggling and unemployment was high.

Mr Thomas said eliminating choice and restricting home sharing would only worsen both of those things.

"Our message to the Inquiry was simple - if you want to grow tourism and create more jobs, support home sharing," he said. 

"Our fair, balanced plan for home sharing would protect people’s choice to use their home or holiday how they want, while addressing valid community concerns.

"For WA's tourism to catch up with the rest of Australia's tourism, then it's home sharing laws need to catch up too."

Mr Thomas said there were now more than 12,500 Airbnb listings in WA and that in 2018, local hosts welcomed more than 594,000 guests and more than 738,000 West Australians used Airbnb as guests.

"Deloitte found in one year alone Airbnb guests who stayed in WA spent more than $155.1 million which supported 780 local jobs and contributed $99.7 million to gross state product," he said.

Have your say? Should the number of residential accommodation homes in the region be capped? Why or why not? Email editorial.bdmail@fairfaxmedia.com.au.