Nova Scotia launches study of impact - and possible regulation - of Uber, Airbnb

HALIFAX – The Nova Scotia government is studying how best to react to Uber, Airbnb and other “disruptive technologies” without driving away the tourists who have come to rely on them.

Tourism Nova Scotia acting CEO Martha Stevens told a legislature committee Wednesday that the government wants to better understand the impact of the sharing economy, with particular emphasis on Airbnb, and try to learn from the experiences of other jurisdictions.

She said in an interview the government may decide to regulate — but it also may not.

“Our work has just really started … and we don’t want to presume there will be further regulation,” said Stevens.

She acknowledged there is a tension between the Crown corporation’s hospitality industry partners, who resent the intrusion of unregulated Airbnb rentals, and tourists who embrace the savings associated with a private rental.

Nova Scotia is aiming to double tourism industry revenues from about $2 billion in 2014 to $4 billion by 2024, and Stevens said the government does not want to jeopardize that goal.

“It’s still only early days, but we want to make sure we’re doing the right things for visitors to Nova Scotia, but also for businesses that are operating here today,” said Stevens.

“This is not going away, and we want to understand and enhance some of the new technologies because consumers are demanding it.”

Last month, Ontario launched a pilot project with Airbnb that will see the home-sharing service tell its 11,000 hosts in the province to pay their taxes. Finance Minister Charles Sousa said the “voluntary” goal is to get Airbnb to comply with Ontario’s laws and regulations.

Sousa said Ontario wants to embrace the sharing economy, but he admits the changes enabled by technology are disrupting existing business models, such as traditional hotels who say they’re losing money to Airbnb. He said the Liberal government believes the sharing economy has “significant potential to create jobs and drive growth, productivity and innovation.”

The Nova Scotia study is being conducted by Fred Morley, who has been seconded to the Crown corporation from his usual gig as chief economist of the province’s Office of Regulatory Affairs and Service Effectiveness.

He is to report back regularly to Tourism Nova Scotia’s board, said Stevens.