Image credit: New Straits Times

KUALA LUMPUR: Airbnb, an online marketplace for lodging, has urged the government to continue the inclusion of small and micro-entrepreneurs (SME) involved in the tourism industry in new business models, support and relief packages.

"To further build on the government's existing measures supporting the tourism sector's recovery, Airbnb has proposed to the government several policy recommendations for consideration to help small business operators whose financial security has been put at risk by the Covid-19 pandemic," Airbnb head of public policy (Southeast Asia) Mich Goh said in a statement today.

Goh said Airbnb welcomes incentives dedicated to the tourism sector in the fourth round of Malaysia's stimulus package, PENJANA, which include tourism tax exemption from July 1, 2020 to June 30, 2021, and the RM1 billion PENJANA Tourism Financing (PTF) facility to finance transformation initiatives by SMEs in the tourism sector.

She said given the significant role short-term rental accommodation providers play in driving Malaysia's tourism industry, Airbnb recommends extending several key incentives dedicated to businesses in the tourism sector under the economic stimulus packages to short term rental accommodation (STRA) for providers in both individuals and SMEs category.

These incentives include the postponement of tax instalment payments to affected businesses in the tourism sector and some allocation from the RM1 billion PTF facility to finance transformation initiatives in the sector.

Other proposals include a one-off payment of RM600 and personal income tax relief of RM1,000 on expenditure related to domestic tourism until December 2021 and digital vouchers of up to RM100 to all Malaysians for domestic tourism purposes to be enabled for Airbnb bookings.

Goh said as many affected Airbnb hosts rely on booking income to help pay their mortgage, the government should consider extending the moratorium on loan repayments at least until December 2020.

She also said a special incentive allocation to players in the sharing economy, specifically the e-hailing industry, is a welcomed plan.

"We also request the government to consider extending the one-off cash assistance being provided to e-hailing drivers to Airbnb hosts," said Goh.

She said Airbnb is committed to supporting the government in weathering this health and economic crisis and taking care of the community of Malaysian hosts, many of whom are ordinary individuals and micro hospitality entrepreneurs, and guests.

"Since the start of the global pandemic, we have activated our extenuating circumstances policy globally, allowing guests and hosts to cancel reservations penalty-free," she added.

Airbnb employees have donated US$1 million from their own pockets to kickstart a Superhost Relief Fund for hosts struggling to make ends meet.

Superhost Relief Fund managed to raise a total of US$17 million, whereby US$9 million of which was contributed by Airbnb's founders.

The fund has allowed eligible hosts who are facing financial difficulties to receive grants of US$5,000.