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Martinborough Airbnb targeted rate proves contentious

Oct 29, 2023

A proposal to introduce a targeted charge for Airbnb operators in South Wairarapa is proving contentious for the region.

South Wairarapa District Council (SWDC) received written feedback on all its rating policy proposals from 230 people, with about 20 appearing at the hearings held on 26 October. Many submitters had strong views on the targeted rate.

People supporting the charge included commercial accommodation providers, who said it would help level the playing field, and free up rental stock for locals.

Those opposing it said small-scale Airbnb operators provided a much-needed service to support key events in an area with limited accommodation, and already paid hefty rates.

A quick search on Airbnb for properties available across the district for a two-night stay in early November revealed 467 places.

Lisa Cornelissen co-owns the Martinborough Top 10 Holiday Park on land leased from the council. She told the hearings committee the facility had more than 40 sites for tents, vans and caravans, and 20 accommodation units.

She had searched on Airbnb for the Martinborough area and found 156 whole houses advertised within five kilometres of Martinborough, with 128 of those within two kilometres.

"This is not sleepouts, this is whole houses. Of those houses, 99 of them have three bedrooms or more, 115 are advertised for $250 or more a night excluding servicing and cleaning fees, 40 are $400 or more a night."

The nightly fee ranged from $125 to $2,500 a night.

"What these facts represent is not good old kiwi bach culture. This is not lending your holiday house to your friends and family for a nominal sum to cover costs.

"Airbnb is without doubt the biggest visitor accommodation seller in Martinborough," she said.

The owners of many of these properties are seeking financial gain, she said.

"They are getting a premium by taking them out of the long-term rental market."

As part of a general review on how rates are structured, SWDC asked the community for feedback on whether short-stay accommodation like Airbnb should specifically contribute to a fund called the economic development rate.

The economic development fund is used to support tourism in the district.

Speaking at the hearing, Leah Hawkins said the proposal meant the economic development fund would be paid for by a small group of people, while the benefits were felt more widely. She also said it was not clear what the current and future charge would be.

Hawkins owns Pinot Villas, self-contained accommodation units in central Martinborough.

"Are we concentrating too much on just one small pool of ratepayers having to take the hit for everyone, or should we be broadening that thought," she asked.

"The other thing is what is the actual amount that everyone was contributing towards economic development. What is the actual number that every household was already [paying]?

"Was it $20 of their rates, of everybody's rates? Is $20 too much to say that everyone contributes and benefits from economic growth in our towns?"

Hawkins said the questions were important ones for people currently in commercial premises.

SWDC material supporting the proposal said as properties used for short-stay accommodation also benefit from the investment, it wanted feedback on whether they should contribute to the charge.

SWDC will hold deliberations on the issues raised in the rating review in Martinborough on 9 and 16 November.

Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

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