As France's recovery continues, its hotel industry takes aim at Airbnb

Despite France's high threat level, hotel stays reached 107.1 million.
Image: Kosala Bandara / CC BY 2.0

According to the latest stats from MKG, France recorded its strongest occupancy since 2008 in the period between January and September this year. 

Not only has the country illustrated the strength of a mature hotel market in the face of terror attacks, the sector may also reap the benefits of a government probe into Airbnb’s use of Payoneer, a financial services company that provides online money transfer and digital payment services. Airbnb hosts can use the prepaid Payoneer card to receive payments for their rentals without the money moving through their bank accounts. The government is concerned that the service could be used to avoid taxes or launder money. 

MKG reported 3.7 percent growth in RevPAR in France, thanks, it said to the strong tourist appeal of the country. Paris saw a 5.9-point increase in its occupation rate, and a RevPAR rise of 5.4 percent.  

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Road to Recovery

The country has bounced back after the Charlie Hebdo attacks in January 2015, then the Paris attacks in November 2015, followed by the Bastille attack in Nice in July 2016. The first three quarters of 2016 saw a 15.1-percent drop in RevPAR in Paris, according to STR. Occupancy was down 12.4 percent, while rate was less affected, falling 3.1 percent, reflecting the change in the business profile of the guests.  

According to The Diminishing Impact of Terrorism, written by David Harper, head of property services for Hotel Partners Africa, key to a quick recovery from an attack was a strong mix of demand. When all tourist demand was from leisure group tourists, an attack can be devastating for hotel demand in that location, as shown by the resorts in Sousse Tunisia. When a location has a wide range of segments providing demand, however, the impact was lessened.  

“How long international visitors stay away often depends on visitors’ perception and how ‘in control’ the local authorities are, how likely another attack is and how much general instability there is," the report claimed. "Note this is the ‘perception’ and not the ‘reality’ of the on-the-ground situation. A survey by GO Group after Paris November 2013, showed that the majority of travelers from the U.S., both leisure and business, were unaffected by the threat posed by terrorism.  

“The Global Business Travel Association agreed, recording that 75 percent of U.S. business travelers said their travel plans to Europe would be completely unaffected by the Paris attacks.” 

Targeting Airbnb

As the hotel sector recovers, one of its competitors is coming under scrutiny. France has become the latest country to investigate the potential of criminals using Airbnb to launder money, as it seeks to limit tax avoidance by hosts. 

Budget minister Gerald Darmanin said he had become aware of the “possibility” of (fiscal) “optimization or even complicity in laundering” and has called Airbnb executives to a meeting which will include finance minister Bruno Le Maire. 

Concerns center around use of the prepaid Payoneer card. “I asked the tax authorities to watch with the utmost vigilance…what the platform proposes and to verify that payments issued via this card from Gibraltar are declared to the French tax authorities," Darmanin said. 

The French hoteliers union also spoke up on their concerns. “Today, Airbnb has set up a system, totally legal, but that helps the hosts not to declare their income to the French tax authorities,” Roland Héguy, president of the Union of Trades and Industries of the Hotel Industry, told Le Monde. 

Airbnb said it made nearly 90 percent of its payments in France via bank transfer and pointed out that other platforms, including Amazon, also used the payment option. The company added that it reminded hosts of their tax obligations when registering, and via its responsible hosting page. 

A reinvigorated French hotel sector is not likely to let Airbnb, or its hosts, forget their responsibilities in a hurry.  

Katherine Doggrell is an editor at Hotel Analyst, the U.K.-based news analysis service for hotel investors.