Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Essaouira Struggles With Illegal Renters

Tourism officials say that the industry is being undermined in Essaouira by the informal sector operators such as Airbnb. Illegal renters are said to be avoiding tax and local regulations

Airbnb is a paid community rental and reservation platform for private homes created in 2008 by two Americans. In 2015, the website already contains more than 1.5 million ads in 34,000 cities including Essaouira. With a few clicks, you will have find hundred listings of riads, villas, guest houses, country houses, and apartments in Essaouira. Yet, the city has only 150 legally classified tourist accommodation establishments.

Essaouira is not alone in its struggle. A recent article in the Huffington Post pointed out similar problems in New Orleans. Global tourist destinations like San Francisco, New York, Berlin, and Amsterdam have passed restrictions on the use of the service to protect neighbourhoods from becoming hollowed out. Some regulations are far stricter than others, and in some cases they have sparked legal battles. The laws typically limit how often you can rent out your home. In Europe, some cities fine Airbnb when homes are listed illegally. Enforcement varies.

The problem is exacerbated by there being no restraint on booking. Simply check out the Internet to get contacts and prices. Some establishments are charging over 3000 DH per night. Money, a lot of money, is circulating across borders in the accounts of owners who manage their (illegal) business via the Internet and telephone.

According to the law (Law 80-14) relating to tourist establishments and other forms of tourist accommodation, a tourist establishment is considered to be any establishment of a commercial nature, which receives a passing or staying clientele and provides it with an offer of accommodation, and services, in whole or in part, catering and animation.

According to Article 5 of the Act, which clearly defines the nine types of tourist accommodation establishments, the opening of an establishment of this type is subject to an operating license issued in accordance with the procedures laid down by regulatory authorities. In addition, the operating permit may only be granted when the tourist accommodation establishment has been provisionally classified, the terms and conditions of which are fixed by regulation. The law could not be more demanding as regards the respect of size, safety, hygiene, and energy efficiency standards for any construction, transformation or extension project of this type of establishment.

In Article 43, Law 80-14 sanctions vary from 50 to 500 thousand dirhams for opening tourist accommodation establishment without obtaining the operating authorisations provided for by law.

Hicham Jbari, mayor of Essaouira, says that the municipality has made an effort on the legal, institutional and administrative level, to deal with this problem, with a revision of the specifications governing the conditions for opening tourist accommodation establishments, constitution of a commission of external relations and tourism to study the files of the applicants of regularisation, and mobilisation of commissions of control for a better supervision of the sector.

Measures announced by the mayor encourage all the illegal owners working to regularise their situation while committing to provide them with the necessary assistance.

In addition to the huge tax losses registered by the state and the municipality because of this situation, the security risk remains very high due to the lack of a declaration of arrivals by informal accommodation establishments.

Restaurants in the tourist catering sector are also said to be operating in an informal way - without authorisation.

According to Law 80-14, a catering establishment is classified as a "tourist restaurant" according to the procedures and according to the minimum dimensional, functional, hygiene, production of service and operating standards set by regulation. Therefore, any operator of a tourist restaurant must take out insurance, constantly ensure the qualification, the good behaviour and the morality of the staff during the exercise of his work, ensure the promotion of the prices, deliver to each customer an invoice or a receipt
"Fair competition never hurts; it motivates us and pushes us to improve our services. On the other hand, the unfair competition of the informal sector has negative and profound effects on both the interests of the professionals and the notoriety of the destination. The fiscal, social and hygiene differential with the structured establishments remains enormous in the absence of a rigour which could help Essaouira to leave the era of the souk towards a structured and better organised tourist restoration," lamented a tourist restaurateur pointing out the popular cafes, snacks and grills that offer tourism catering without the conditions or authorisation.

And now, the good news...

At the same time the city is getting a boost by being ranked by Lonely Planet as one of the "Top 10 Best Value Destinations to Visit Around the World in 2018".

Every year, the publisher of the Lonely Planet Travel Guide selects the best cities, destinations, regions and tourist countries in the world. This year, the "Best in Travel 2018" guide places the city of Essaouira in 6th position of "Best Value Destinations", offering the best value for money.

At the top of this list is the city of Tallinn Estonia. In second place, the guide recommends visiting Lanzarote Island (Spain). It is followed by Arizona (USA), La Paz (Bolivia), Poland and Essaouira, the only Arab and African destination to be present in this prestigious ranking.

With its natural, historical and cultural assets, Essaouira, a cosmopolitan city, has become a popular tourist destination. Its medina, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the island of Mogador, its port, dating from the eighteenth century and its beaches, allowing the practice of water sports, make the province an exceptional tourist destination and quality.

Essaouira is known for windsurfing and kitesurfing, thanks to the strong winds that blow almost constantly in the bay and the annual organisation of a stage of the Kitesurf World Cup.

The Medina of Essaouira, formerly known as Mogador, is an exceptional example of a fortified city of the mid-eighteenth century, surrounded by a wall Vauban style. His kasbah is also an architectural marvel.

In recent years, the city has organized the Gnaoua festival and other major artistic and cultural events, including the Atlantic Andalusia Festival, which attracts music lovers from all over the world.


1 comment:

Charlene said...

Look at the underlying problem. People are renting via AirBud BECAUSE the government is taking such a huge cut and BECAUSE of how long,difficult and complicated the process of becoming legal can be. Little one apartment operations cannot make enough money to make it worthwhile if they have to pay such high taxes on any gains they make.This 40% + is just not reasonable ,especially when *agents* can be bribed to not declare an illegal operation. CUT taxes back to 10% of revenue and you will see more people registering their *businesses*.