A FORMER Noosa backpackers’ hostel owner said short-term accommodation (STA) providers should be assessed as businesses, to provide a more level playing field amongst different types of tourist accommodation.
Warick Redwood, who until recently operated the 50-bed Flashpackers hostel in Sunshine Beach, says that while hotels, resorts and hostels are businesses which have to meet a variety of planning, building and safety requirements just to be approved, an STA owner faces no such requirements.
Local laws now demand registration of STAs and contact details for complaints, along with a council fee of up to $3200 – but that is all, he said.
He does not have an issue with the existence of the STA industry, given its global popularity, but believes it should meet similar standards and requirements asked of traditional providers.
“We put in a development application [for Flashpackers], which took eight and a half years to get through council,” Mr Redwood said.
“It was approved in 2009. We finished construction and part of the DA was we had to pay $190,000 of infrastructure charges.
“With 50 beds approved it cost just under $400 a bed. We couldn’t afford to build 50 straight away so we built 25 – but we still had to pay the $190,000.”
It didn’t end there; being in a residential area, in one of four areas where backpacker hostels were allowed to operate, a lot of additional requirements were tacked on.
“We had to do a lighting plan for outdoors – you can’t face adjoining properties – at the ends of balconies you had to put screens up. Everything had to be funneled away from fences.”
Adequate parking places were also an essential requirement, and the hostel had to be managed 24/7 to ensure no noise complaints, with guests having to sign a form ensuring they understood the rules.
But the same requirements to protect the amenity of neighbouring residences does not apply to STAs.
“At the end of the day, one business pays $4000 per bed, the other pays nothing,” he said.
Mr Redwood said he asked Noosa Council about its stance on STAs being regarded as businesses.
“They throw it straight to a federal government [edict] where, if they’re not collecting taxes, it’s not a business,” he said.
“But if you want to run a hairdresser’s or give swimming lessons [from your home], it’s a business.”
Mr Redwood said traditional resort managers were trying to keep as many of their units in their rental pool as “that’s how they make their money”. The resorts have some privately owned units, a proportion of which rent them out through agents or STAs.
“There is now a discourse: If you own a unit and rent it through Airbnb, now the person [who rents it] comes into reception and asks, for example ‘what time can I book the resort bus into town?’.
“The resort says ‘you can’t get on, you’re not registered in the resort’.”
The manager of long-standing tourist accommodation provider Islander Noosa Resort on Gympie Terrace, Cathy Parry-Moule, said the situation had become “very complex”.
“People [who have booked through an STA] try to check in at reception – but they don’t know that we can’t register them,” she said.
“They try to leave their bags with us, but we can’t take responsibility.
“Sometimes a (STA) guest can become inebriated and needs to get into their unit – but we don’t have key access.”
Ms Parry-Moule said she tries to get details about the guest for the Islander body corporate regulations, but they are not always available. In effect, the STA owner dumps any consequences of renting through an STA on to the resort management and staff.
Recently, she said, a noisy party was held at a STA-booked unit in the complex.
“We went there at 10pm and got abused, then tried to close it down at midnight.
“They said ‘you’re not my agent’ and carried on. We called our security guard – and passed on the callout fee to the owner.
“We were accused of lying about it, so we had to obtain and compile security video footage, which showed the security arriving, also the later mess of bottles and cigarette ends around the unit – and the impact on other guests of the resort.”
Ms Parry-Moule said she tries hard to explain the complexities of the situation to STA guests and maintain a positive attitude to ensure the reputation both of her employer, and Noosa’s tourism market.
But she says the situation is difficult, and it distorts the Islander’s business model.
Meanwhile Mr Redwood, who also lives among a number of STA residences in Sunshine Beach, was cautiously optimistic about the new registrations applied by council which seemed to be working “so far”, for local residents.