Time for S'pore to embrace Airbnb-style stays

The Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) announced that it has commissioned a new study to gather Singaporeans' views on short-term accommodation after a public consultation earlier this year yielded mixed results (URA to seek more detailed views on Airbnb-style stays; July 24).

For years, the Singapore authorities have hesitated to issue home-sharing platforms such as Airbnb a licence to fully operate here.

It may be time to refrain from using public resources to run surveys that have so far not led to any major conclusion.

The authorities did not conduct such long-stretched public surveys before allowing ride-hailing companies such as Uber and Grab to operate. Social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter were also not subjected to long waits over extensive consultations before becoming commonplace among Singaporeans.

There were many voices that raised reasonable objections against these platforms. But the authorities then, as they should do now, decided to move with the times.

Allowing platforms such as Airbnb to fully operate here will bring its unique set of changes, both social and economic.

But good governance is about addressing these changes head on to capitalise on the massive market opportunity of tourists who seek authentic short-term accommodation.

Extending the public survey is likely to yield more mixed results since there will always be strong voices against the service. These opponents include individuals linked to well-funded hotel chains that are threatened by the competition as well as ordinary residents who feel they will be inconvenienced by tourist traffic in their estate.

Perhaps it is time for Singapore to embrace this change and manage the challenges that come with it.

Doing so will also reduce URA's enforcement expenses and allow it to study the impact of short-term accommodation on the country in real time.

Denis Edward

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 26, 2018, with the headline 'Time for S'pore to embrace Airbnb-style stays'. Print Edition | Subscribe