Welcome to my finance blog Hot Commodity – because the most valuable commodity is information!
To kick off proceedings, I’m here at the Confederation of British Industry’s annual conference, where an interview series on ‘disruptive innovation’ showed that there is certainly some tension between the old and the new when it comes to the short-term rental market.
Andy Harrison, chief executive of Premier Inn-owner Whitbread, is calling for the government to level the playing field for its hotel chain against controversial new pretender Airbnb, which allows people to rent out their spare room or flat on a short-term basis.
“The government is not keeping up with the pace of change in technology,” he told the packed room at Grosvenor House on Park Lane.
Andy said he had done his own research on Airbnb and found that there were a number of hosts with multiple properties available – some as many as 13. He questioned whether these “professional landlords” were properly regulated so that they feel “the same degree of accountability” as the likes of Premier Inn.
Unfortunately Andy was not directly pitted against James McClure, general manager for UK and Ireland at Airbnb, who spoke earlier during the session and would have made for a more interesting debate. When questioned about the amount of tax its hosts pay in the the UK – particularly relevant considering that Airbnb was forced to share data about its Irish hosts with the authorities recently – James gave a politician’s answer and simply said “we have a very good discussion with HMRC”. With a clamp-down inevitable here in the UK it’s unsurprising that James was cagey.
While Andy eschewed the suggestion that Airbnb was eating into Premier Inn’s margins, he did concede that the company is investing heavily online – “we’ve got 30 people in jeans and t-shirts doing digital marketing that we just didn’t have a few years ago,” he announced proudly. Ahem.
More conference news to come…