In another example of tech disruptors in the travel space making peace - and then making business - with local stakeholders, the Belize Tourism Board (BTB) and vacation rental company Airbnb have agreed to collaborate.
With a goal of "driving sustainable tourism in Belize through home sharing," BTB will benefit from Airbnb's consumer reach and voice to promote the country "as a world-class tourism destination, highlighting cultural festivals, local tourism experiences and other unique events."
At the same time, the two parties agree to cooperate to "share best practices globally for a modern and simple regulatory framework for short-term rentals in order to grow and diversify the country’s tourism product in keeping with global demand."
“The Belize Tourism Board is excited about this new cooperation agreement with Airbnb, and in working together to develop an equitable and sustainable business environment for this important segment of the tourism offer in Belize," said Evan Tillett, Director of Tourism at BTB.
"With new engaging features on its platform, Airbnb is not only about room stock generation, it is also moving towards the creation of authentic destination experiences, an area where Belize thrives and seeks to engage,” he added.
While its media release doesn't directly address its hotel/ resort product or the friction between the hotel industry and short term vacation rental companies in many other destinations, BTB's language makes it clear it's not trying to cut a tourism pie into smaller pieces for everyone, so to speak. It's trying to make a bigger pie. And distribute the benefits of tourism to a broader section of the country's residents, including individual homeowners.
BTB emphasizes that "the home sharing community in Belize is a growing component of the local tourism industry and an important asset to the country’s wealth. Within this sector, the unrivaled global community of hosts and guests on Airbnb has created a whole new way to travel and experience a destination."
"Belize is an important destination for Airbnb, and we are pleased to continue working together with the BTB to develop a strong, democratized tourism industry through home-sharing, in which Belizeans can benefit directly," stated Carlos Munoz, Airbnb Campaign Manager, Public Policy and Communications for the Caribbean and Central America.
This may be the start of a domino-effect of collaboration with the short term rental vacation market throughout the entire region. Airbnb has partnered with the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) to "drive tourism to the region and expand economic opportunity by promoting safe authentic travel throughout the Caribbean" through a variety of initiatives, of which the agreement with BTB is only the latest.
Belize was recently featured in one such initiative, Discover the Caribbean, which sought to promote tourism to destinations as they safely re-opened during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Belize Tourism Board clearly expects to regrow following the pandemic at least partially through the benefits of partnering with Airbnb. The announcement states the two parties intend to encourage environmental sustainability while empowering local people and their communities to be the primary beneficiaries of economic growth driven by tourism.
The Big Picture
This new, tourism board partnership with Airbnb should be seen by the travel industry in the context of other conflicts and 'if you can't beat them, join them' concessions to working with, instead of against, tech disruptor companies in the travel space.
Only last fall, Barcelona became the first EU destination to ban Airbnb, citing overtourism, and the hollowing out of its community due to residents pushed out of its core by short term rentals. Other cities continue to struggle to balance that impact as well as level the playing field between short term rentals and the heavily taxed and regulated hotel industry.
Other destinations and travel sectors may also be finding ways to come to terms with tech company disruptors. Open Jaw has recently reported about Uber's deals to collaborate with local taxi companies in NYC and San Francisco that formerly tried to ban it, as well as its launch of rail, coach and soon, hotel and even air product on its UK Uber app.
Which has to leave the travel industry wondering how these new collaborations will continue to affect travel product and retail opportunity during turbulent pandemic recovery and beyond.