Thursday, January 22, 2015

Short-term stay industry eg AirBnB can be positive for Singapore.

Dear Friends,

URA is getting feedback on short-term rentals in private homes. ( click here).

Before we say NO and dismiss this nascent industry as unworkable, let us consider if with some regulating, this industry may in fact be a boon rather than a bane.

Update: Straits Times Forum page printed my letter on this topic: Click Here


The world is changing and none more than in the“sharing economy”. There is a global paradigm shift in this aspect and in Singapore, we should not dismiss this without considering its merits.
Short-term stay industry most obviously spearheaded by companies like AirBnB and PandaBed has a role to play in many modern cities and many tourists all around the world do stay in homes hosted by these websites and have found them a real alternative to hotels. Why not Singapore?

Singapore's situation
In Singapore, accommodation for tourists and visitors is extremely expensive or often unavailable during peak seasons eg school holidays/ F-1 events etc. This is the same refrain we ( private hospitals) hear from our patients from time to time. Even though budget airlines have done wonders in bringing in more tourists, lack of economical niche homes present a stumbling block for them.
If this short-term stay industry can be properly regulated, beneficiaries are many and include home owners and tourism industry ie retail /airline/ medical tourism sans (excluding) hotels. The hotel industry , for obvious reasons, will try to prevent competition and will try to lobby and influence government leaders why we should not allow this into Singapore.

As it is now, many of patients/family coming for prolonged medical treatments already stay in apartments in Lucky Plaza/ China town. These are probably illegal. If legitimised there will be extra income tax collection for Singapore’s treasury. But more importantly, a new industry will grow to the benefit of many ordinary home owners.
Problems are not insurmountable
Potential problems eg overuse of common amenities/ loss of privacy are manageable by having proper regulations. For instance, HDB flats should not be allowed to participate in this scheme as HDB is supposed to be subsidised housing for the masses.  
Condominium participation depends on each condo’s (MCST) Bylaws. The strata title members decide for themselves if short term tenants are desirable. Their property prices may increase/ decrease depending on which way the  coin falls. The market decides. One may be surprised, if in Condos who say YES,  buyers may turn up to drive up demand for apartments there as then there will be another new income stream for them later.
There is little reason why landed private housing, eg  bungalows /semiD / terraces cannot rent out their properties so long as the tenants/landlords abide by existing laws of traffic/ environment) etc. If tenants are noisy or traffic jams ensue, existing provisions should suffice.
If this industry is allowed, landlords/owners must be held accountable and keep proper documentation/registers of tenants to ensure proper tax submission and for national security ( esply important for post-911 world).

Properly regulated short-term accommodation industry will make our hotel industry more competitive and this industry has potential for bringing our tourism industry to the next level.

Don’t just say NO!
Dr Huang Shoou Chyuan


Anonymous said...

There are pros and cons to this. On one hand, it encourages maximization of land use but, on the other, there will be potential disputes between neighbors and possibly abuse of rights by the owners.

It is ideal to have a set of rules to regulate the industry but more importantly, it is the ability to enforce these regulations. Can our home team and agencies handle the enforcement?

There is also a possibility of residential homes prices escalating towards commercial values if the industry is left unchecked and becomes commercially lucrative. These 'homes' would be bought for their commercial potential to be like hotels. What then would become of the availability and affordability of homes?

Paul Mah said...

Can Anonymous please stand up? I am 56. Travelled enough for leisure and now much more for business on a shoestring budget, ...and never will I call Singapore home as the landlord of Singapore aka ruling government has made it so very claustrophobic. One of the best inventions on the backbone of internet .....complimenting to a very old hotel industry for short term stay is AirBnB. It is to me a very friendly and viable concept that permits the world if CIVILISED humanity to travel and enjoy each country's family personality in the jungle of urbanized living. Singapore government's kiasu mentality(see new Oxford dictionary definition) can only kill this freedom and hospitable rights if it's people.

Peter Ong said...

I travel a lot, and short-term home rental aggregators like Airbnb is an obvious choice for me. Aside from the obvious monetary savings, when renting a whole apartment, you get to cook and connect with the locals. What better way for travellers to know Singaporeans better?

Would that be potential conflicts arising from such arrangements? Invariably yes. Still, this can be mitigated with a common code that home owners can adopt and enforce on their own without calling in the authorities. Most travellers who choose such accommodation options are a respectful lot.

Besides, usually home owners will request their guests to keep real quiet after 10pm and that they should also should not generate too much noise both inside and outside the house. If the neighbours do file a complaint, the guests would be booted out.

It will be such a shame if we hold back on something just because we are uncertain of its effects on society. Instead of choosing the easy way out by rejecting this wholesale, why not considered a trial og 6 months to a year and then take it from there? Personally, I think it will contribute to a more vibrant travel industry in Singapore.

Anonymous said...

@ Paul Mah

'Impressive'. All that traveling. But so have I, who have traveled and worked abroad. And I will continue to call Singapore home, more than before.

Having experienced what life is like abroad, what makes Singapore unattractive to me, is not the government but residents who complain at everything the government does, who think the world owes them a living, who treat public places as if they own them, who behave as if theirs is the only valid point of view. I wonder what would happen if prices of homes begin to rise again. More noises?

Stand up? To bullies? I have better things to do than 'stand up' on demand. Good day to all.

Anonymous said...

While the concept of sharing is fundamentally innocent and admirable, but when applies to short-term rental, there are unfortunately many hidden pitfalls that need careful consideration. The surface advantage is additional income, share values & culture, mix communities, promote tourism, generate economy etc BUT underneath there are dangerous current if not properly address, can lead to horrific consequences for ourselves, our neighbours, our communities, our economy and our country.
All gain would be invalid if and should one of these short-term stayers who happen to be a would-be terrorist disguising himself/herself as an ordinary tourist. Who is to check their credential, their identity, their background, their affiliation, their inclination, their intention etc??? Definitely not the website promoter, not the local agent, not the owner … out of reach by home security agencies. Such an opportunity offers them a safe heaven, in an enclosed private room or house, engaging in their own sinister business of terrorist planning, even bomb manufacturing for target of same building or other prominent landmarks of Singapore, or even neighbouring countries.
The risk is simply not worth it. One incident is enough to bring down the secure reputation of Singapore resulting in heavy lost to economy and tourism.