23 March 2019
Airbnb has called on Hong Kong people to sign an online petition in support of home sharing. Photo: Reuters
Airbnb has called on Hong Kong people to sign an online petition in support of home sharing. Photo: Reuters

Regulation, not ban, the right response to home-sharing

The Hong Kong government will soon hold the third reading of the Hotel and Guest House Accommodation (Amendment) Bill.

The bill introduces three major changes. First, all premises have to obtain an official license in order to provide sleeping accommodations. Second, evidences such as advertisements and price lists will be accepted as proof of the premises being used as an unlicensed hotel or guest house. Third, both owners and tenants of the unlicensed premises will be held criminally liable, according to the amended bill.

The tougher rules would deal a heavy shock to home-sharing platforms.

Industry leader Airbnb has called on Hongkongers to sign an online petition in support of home sharing.

Unlicensed guest houses have sprouted up across Hong Kong since the city introduced the Individual Visit Scheme.

A fatal fire accident in an illegal hotel at the end of 2013 had prompted the authorities to launch a public consultation over the Hotel and Guest House Accommodation (Amendment) Bill in 2014.

The bill passed the first reading in the Legislative Council in July.

Airbnb was founded in the US in 2008 as a home-sharing platform, and has not become popular in Hong Kong until around 2016.

As such, the bill cannot reflect the development of the trend of home-sharing platforms.

Airbnb has staged an online petition campaign, in an attempt to persuade the government to launch a new round of public consultation on home sharing.

Generally speaking, home-sharing model may suit Western cities more, since they have relatively low population density and sufficient housing supply.

These home-sharing platforms offer affordable and diversified accommodation options for tourists, thus boosting tourism and resources utilization, while not bringing excessive trouble for local communities.

By contrast, Hong Kong is one of the most densely populated places in the world. The city has been grappling with short housing supply for years.

If the government adopts a laissez-faire approach towards home-sharing platforms, many residential flats will be turned into subdivided flats for tourists.

Nonetheless, other countries faced with similar challenges have managed to come up with measures to strike a balance between embracing innovations and minimizing the disturbance to locals.

Japan, Taiwan and Thailand have all unveiled regulations for home-sharing platforms.

These rules include registration requirements, fire-prevention and ventilation requirements, caps on maximum number of days premises can provide lodging services, and bans in selective districts.

If the government insists on cracking down on unlicensed hotel, guest houses and home-sharing platforms altogether, that may leave Hong Kong as the only global city disallowing both Uber and Airbnb.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Nov 14

Translation by Julie Zhu

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Hong Kong Economic Journal columnist

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