Growing up in Malaysia, we’re probably used to our parents telling us to study and not “lepak”. The term is often used to describe the act of loitering or loafing around aimlessly.
Sounds like something only naughty kids would do, right? Not really, according to Airbnb.
In fact, the hospitality company is encouraging Malaysians to lepak in the country with various activities available on its platform. The community-driven business launched Airbnb Experiences in Malaysia in March this year and it has been picking up momentum. The platform boasts over 120 unique experiences today.
Airbnb public relations manager (South-East Asia) Elaine Toh says the reception from both travellers and hosts have been encouraging, prompting nationwide expansion for the programme.
“Since our launch earlier this year, we have expanded to the whole country. Now anyone throughout Malaysia can submit their Airbnb Experiences,” she says during a recent event in Hulu Langat, Selangor.
Introduced in 2016, Airbnb Experiences are handcrafted activities designed and led by local experts. The programme bills itself as offering unprecedented access and deep insights into communities and places that travellers wouldn’t otherwise come across.
As part of the programme’s run in Malaysia, the company has launched the Live And Lepak campaign. It hopes to connect locals through common interests and help them rediscover their own backyard.
“There is this perception that when we lepak, we are not doing something productive. But we all like to lepak on weekends, why not do it while connecting with other locals?” Toh says.
The nationwide expansion of the programme is set to create a larger network of local experiences.
“The expansion will really allow international travellers to experience more of Malaysia in a magical way. Similarly for locals, they can check out new experiences too whether it’s a hen party or group travel,” she says.
Airbnb is paying you for your passion
Beyond creating a network of experiences, Airbnb is committed to creating new economic opportunities. Here’s where Airbnb Experiences comes in: It allows people to make some side income from their hobby. To do that, they are expanding beyond the accommodation business.
“If you don’t own an apartment, that’s fine. Why not chase your passion, do something that you like and also benefit from it and earn a little bit of money?” Toh says.
With Experiences, the goal is to connect hosts and guests together with local communities and entrepreneurs. At the same, it’s also about preserving the personalised human touch experience.
“At Airbnb, we see technology slowly displacing humans. But we want our technology and platform to really enable hosts so passion and hospitality will not be replaced by computers,” Toh explains.
In a statement, Airbnb Experiences director (Asia Pacific) Parin Mehta says the company wants to promote tourism that is inclusive and sustainable.
“Malaysians are creative and passionate entrepreneurs, and Airbnb Experiences are a great way to unleash economic opportunity for people to monetise their passion and talents,” he says.
One such Experiences host leading this wave in Malaysia is Fuad Fahmy. The man organises a walking tour to some hidden gems within Kampung Baru in Kuala Lumpur.
Born and bred in the Malay enclave, Fuad had always wanted to showcase his village to travellers around the world. It is now a dream that has come true with the tours he conducts.
“I get to help travellers explore authentically and immerse themselves into a local area and culture. A place has a lot of stories to tell, and you will only find out when you (get to) know a local,” he says.
Will Airbnb pay taxes in Malaysia?
The travel and tourism scene in Malaysia is booming. Airbnb recently announced a 99% year-on-year (y-o-y) growth in guest arrivals in Malaysia having welcomed more than two million guests in 2017. That makes Malaysia the fastest growing market for Airbnb in South-East Asia.
There are now 44,000 listings in Malaysia on Airbnb, marking an almost 60% y-o-y increase. But the company’s growth in the country is not without its fair share of criticism.
When the tourism tax was introduced last year, local hotel associations complained that Airbnb operators were exempted from the ruling. The tourism tax charges a flat rate of RM10 per room, per night on foreigners staying in hotels or registered private accommodations.
Airbnb says it is having discussions with authorities such as the Finance Ministry, Royal Malaysian Customs Department and Tourism, Arts and Culture Ministry.
In the near future, the company is mulling the implementation of Voluntary Collection Agreements (VCAs) to collect and remit tourist tax.
The VCA is a tool designed by Airbnb to collect taxes from its host and guest community and remit it on their behalf. This helps to facilitate a streamlined process and lighten the administrative burden for local and state governments, as well as Airbnb hosts.
So far, Airbnb has remitted more than US$510mil (RM2.14bil) in hotel and tourist taxes through agreements with more than 340 jurisdictions around the world.
Digital frontier for tourism
More recently, Airbnb signed a Memorandum of Collaboration (MOC) with the Malaysia Productivity Corporation (MPC), and a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC).
The collaboration with MPC will see Airbnb sharing relevant data and best practices to inform recommendations on short-term accommodation policy in Malaysia. The partnership with MDEC will focus on promoting digital inclusion and empowering local hospitality entrepreneurs in Malaysia.
These recent developments, according to Airbnb public policy head (South-East Asia) Mich Goh, are part of the company’s efforts to promote local and authentic tourism.
“With over two million Airbnb guests in Malaysia in the past 12 months, we are working closely with the government and local industry stakeholders towards fair, progressive and innovative policies for short-term accommodation,” she says.
Goh adds that the Government’s focus on digital technology is an encouraging sign.
“Our partnerships will enable Airbnb’s global, people-powered platform to continue to spotlight Malaysian tourism on the global stage and draw more international tourists to Malaysia as their travel destination of choice, while supporting the growth of hospitality entrepreneurs,” she concludes.