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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 September 2018

Morocco to tax Airbnb in bid to protect tourism industry

Vacation rentals offered on the online portal will be subject to tax beginning next year

Morocco plans to implement measures that will level the playing field for traditional hotels and protect them with the introduction of taxes on Airbnb starting from next year. Airbnb
Morocco plans to implement measures that will level the playing field for traditional hotels and protect them with the introduction of taxes on Airbnb starting from next year. Airbnb

Moroccan officials have placed Airbnb and Booking.com in their crosshairs, looking to level the playing field for traditional hotels as a “new reality” forces Africa’s biggest tourism destination to re-evaluate efforts to drum up business.

Vacation rentals offered on online portal Airbnb will be subject to tax beginning next year, bridging a legal void that has hurt the more than 3,800 hotels and hundreds of travel agencies operating in the country, said Mehdi Taleb, head of regulation, development and quality at Morocco’s Tourism, Air Transport and Social Economy Ministry. Tax officials will work with undercover hotel inspectors and interior ministry informants to ensure enforcement.

Authorities will also help local online travel platforms offer attractive packages aimed at giving them greater footing against online global sites such as Booking.com.

The changes are part of the North African kingdom’s efforts to confront a “new reality which is distorting visibility for our tourism development strategies,” Taleb said in an interview. With the help of online portals, 60 per cent of the 10-million-plus holiday-makers visiting Morocco yearly plan their holiday by themselves – sidestepping the conventional tourism market.

About 20,000 people list properties on Airbnb in Morocco, second on the continent only to South Africa. With tourism receipts topping US$7 billion (Dh25.71bn) last year, the industry is Morocco’s top hard-currency earner and accounts for 10 per cent of the economy.

Morocco joins a list of governments applying taxes and regulations to online lodging marketplaces such as Airbnb. Critics say the unregulated, unlicensed short-term rental market has hurt conventional travel operations and driven up property prices, while depriving governments of revenue.

Jaber Al-Hababi, who owns the no-frill Auberge Dardara in up-and-coming tourist draw Chefchaouen, welcomed the authorities’ plans as “the logical thing to do”, but sounded a note of scepticism.

“Outwitting the internet and the new technologies is much easier said than done,” Al-Hababi said.

“The market here is totally imbalanced because of Booking.com, Airbnb and the informal rental sector,” he said. “Many people in Chefchaouen squat with relatives so that they can rent their own homes to tourists. So poverty is the problem.”

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