Officials are clamping down on Cayman Islands residents who rent spare rooms to tourists using home-sharing websites such as Airbnb.
Several people who used the website to advertise rooms for rent to tourists have taken down their listings after being told they need a license from the Hotel Licensing Board.
The Department of Tourism confirmed that anyone who rents short-term accommodation of any kind must be licensed, inspected and pay relevant taxes and fees.
One Cayman Islands resident said he had hosted several guests in his spare room by posting on the website, which he also used to find accommodation in other countries whenever he traveled.
He said he stopped accepting tourists and took down his profile on the site after being told he had to meet licensing requirements, including property inspections from the Department of Environmental Health, fire department and the Hotel Licensing Board.
“We were just doing it for a little bit of extra cash from a spare room. We made a lot of friends doing it and introduced them to Cayman. We didn’t realize we were doing anything wrong,” he said.
Another user who had listed her home on Airbnb said she was warned by Immigration staff after her guests put her address on an Immigration arrival form.
She said she had no idea a license was required for using Airbnb. The site promotes itself as a hub connecting travelers with hosts willing to offer them short-term accommodation, often in their own homes.
A spokesperson for the Hotel Licensing Board said it has a responsibility to ensure all accommodations rented to visitors meet standards of cleanliness and safety.
She said this applies to all properties, from single rooms and studio guest houses to multi-unit condos and hotels.
“Accommodations that are promoted and being rented without an officially issued Tourism Accommodations License, which represents that all criteria have been met, will be contacted by the HLB Secretariat for inspection and compliance with the Tourism Law,” she added.
Peter Huntingford, spokesman for Airbnb, said the website brings in additional tourists and could help boost the Cayman Islands economy. He suggested it is unrealistic to expect people hosting visitors in their homes to meet the same criteria as hotels and offered to work with tourism officials in Cayman to find a solution.
“Airbnb is complementary to the existing tourism industry in the Cayman Islands,” he said. “Local hosts help to grow and diversify tourism beyond the regular hot spots, and spread economic benefits to new communities, families and small businesses.
“But the rules currently being applied to home sharing in the Cayman Islands are complex and confusing. They were designed for a different industry in a different era and don’t fit this new activity.”
He said policymakers around the world are implementing simple, modern rules for people who share their homes.
New regulations in the U.K., France and parts of the U.S. have helped simplify the registration process and make it easier for people using Airbnb to pay taxes, he said.