Malaysian authorities crack down on virtual money operator, MBI Group International


Smooth operation: Domestic Trade, Co-operatives and Consumerism Ministry enforcement director Datuk Mohd Roslan Mahayudin (centre) giving a press conference on the raids which yielded luxury vehicles and cash. Despite the crackdown by the authorities, investors continue to patronise M Mall, which is operated by MBI.

 

Dawn raids on MBI

 

Key member of MBI Group International remanded 98 bank accounts containing RM209mil frozen to date Three luxury cars and cash seized

The virtual money scheme operator was hit by three early morning raids in Penang and Kedah as a multi-agency task force acted on intelligence gathered in its ongoing anti-pyramid scheme probe. Investors say they regard this development as a temporary matter, while the public has been urged to come forward and help in the investigation. GEORGE TOWN: After watching the premises closely for a month, the authorities sprang into action and arrested a key person in virtual money scheme operator MBI Group International.

Four bank accounts of a newly- established company that belonged to the suspect’s relative, with deposits totalling RM30mil, were also frozen, while luxury cars and cash were seized in raids on three premises in Penang and Kedah carried out early on Monday morning.

Domestic Trade, Co-operatives and Consumerism Ministry enforcement chief Datuk Mohd Roslan Mahayudin said the suspect, in his 50s, is believed to be the founder of the group.

“He has been remanded for four days since Monday for investigation under the Anti-Money Laundering, Anti-Terrorism Financing and Proceeds of Unlawful Activities Act 2001,” he said.

Speaking to reporters at the Bank Negara Malaysia office here, Mohd Roslan said the operation, codenamed Ops Token II, was staged because the premises were believed to be involved in a pyramid scheme.

“They were believed to be the cash storage transit before the money is transferred to other accounts for the purpose of the scheme’s activities,” he said.

Two of the premises were in Taman MBI Desaku in Kulim, Kedah, and one in Sungai Dua on mainland Penang.

Ops Token II was a follow-up to Ops Token I, which was carried out against Mface Club in Klang Valley and M Mall, Penang, on May 29.

Ops Token II was conducted by the National Revenue Recovery Enforcement Team, which comprises the ministry, the Attorney-General’s Chambers, police, Customs, Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission, Inland Revenue Board, Bank Negara, Companies Commission of Malaysia and the Immigration Department.

Mohd Roslan said the team had been monitoring the premises with the assistance of police for a month prior to the operation.

Three luxury vehicles – a Jaguar, a Range Rover and a Toyota Vellfire – and cash totalling RM2.235mil were seized during the raids, Mohd Roslan said.

The team confiscated RM280,000 from the site in Sungai Dua, and RM187,612 cash and RM218,000 worth of foreign notes from one of the Kedah locations. Nothing was seized from the third location.

The foreign currencies seized were Singapore dollars, US dollars, Thai baht, Australian dollars, Chinese yuan, New Zealand dollars, Indonesian rupiah, Korean won, Japanese yen, Hong Kong dollars, Taiwan dollars, Laotian kip and Cambodian riel, he added.

Mohd Roslan said with the latest series of raids, the number of local bank accounts frozen over the investigation into the group totalled 98, with combined funds of RM209mil.

The bank accounts included 49 company accounts and 49 individual accounts.

Mohd Roslan stressed that the authorities would continue investigating the group and all its subsidiary companies.

While no investors have lodged reports against the group so far, Mohd Roslan urged investors to step forward to assist in the investigation.

The authorities have not estimated the amount of losses suffered by the investors or the public, he added.

Under the Act, the suspect faces a jail term of up to 15 years and a fine of five times the amount or RM5mil, whichever is higher, upon conviction.

The bank accounts, meanwhile, could be frozen for up to 90 days, while the authorities could investigate the matter for a year, Mohd Roslan added.

Authorities crack down on MBI

Key person held, luxury cars seized and accounts frozen

 

GEORGE TOWN: After watching the premises closely for a month, the authorities sprang into action and arrested a key person in virtual money scheme operator MBI Group International.

Four bank accounts of a newly-established company that belonged to the suspect’s relative, with deposits totalling RM30mil, were also frozen, while luxury cars and cash were seized in raids on three premises in Penang and Kedah carried out early on Monday morning.

Domestic Trade, Co-operatives and Consumerism Ministry enforcement chief Datuk Mohd Roslan Mahayudin said the suspect, in his 50s, is believed to be the founder of the group.

“He has been remanded for four days since Monday for investigation under the Anti-Money Laundering, Anti-Terrorism Financing and Proceeds of Unlawful Activities Act 2001,” he said.

Speaking to reporters at the Bank Negara Malaysia office here, Mohd Roslan said the operation, codenamed Ops Token II, was staged because the premises were believed to be involved in a pyramid scheme.

“They were believed to be the cash storage transit before the money is transferred to other accounts for the purpose of the scheme’s activities,” he said.

Two of the premises were in Taman MBI Desaku in Kulim, Kedah, and one in Sungai Dua on mainland Penang.

Ops Token II was a follow-up to Ops Token I, which was carried out against Mface Club in Klang Valley and M Mall, Penang, on May 29.

Ops Token II was conducted by the National Revenue Recovery Enforcement Team, which comprises the ministry, the Attorney-General’s Chambers, police, Cus­toms, Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission, Inland Revenue Board, Bank Negara, Companies Commission of Malaysia and the Immigration Department.

Mohd Roslan said the team had been monitoring the premises with the assistance of police for a month prior to the operation.

Three luxury vehicles – a Jaguar, a Range Rover and a Toyota Vellfire – and cash totalling RM2.235mil were seized during the raids, Mohd Roslan said.

The team confiscated RM280,000 from the site in Sungai Dua, and RM187,612 cash and RM218,000 worth of foreign notes from one of the Kedah locations. Nothing was seized from the third location.

The foreign currencies seized were Singapore dollars, US dollars, Thai baht, Australian dollars, Chinese yuan, New Zealand dollars, Indonesian rupiah, Korean won, Japanese yen, Hong Kong dollars, Taiwan dollars, Laotian kip and Cambodian riel, he added.

Mohd Roslan said with the latest series of raids, the number of local bank accounts frozen over the investigation into the group totalled 98, with combined funds of RM209mil.

The bank accounts included 49 company accounts and 49 individual accounts.

Mohd Roslan stressed that the authorities would continue investigating the group and all its subsidiary companies.

While no investors have lodged reports against the group so far, Mohd Roslan urged investors to step forward to assist in the investigation.

The authorities have not estimated the amount of losses suffered by the investors or the public, he added.

Under the Act, the suspect faces a jail term of up to 15 years and a fine of five times the amount or RM5mil, whichever is higher, upon conviction.

The bank accounts, meanwhile, could be frozen for up to 90 days, while the authorities could investigate the matter for a year, Mohd Roslan added.

Source: The Star by christopher tanandarnold loh

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Two virtual coin get-rich schemes red-flagged by Malaysian Central Bank


GEORGE TOWN: Two more popular financial schemes in Penang have been red-flagged by Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM).

A check on the financial consumer alert list yesterday showed MBI International Sdn Bhd and Mface International Sdn Bhd to be the latest additions.

Both are subsidiaries of MBI Group International, a company with investors worldwide, many of them from China.

To date, 302 companies have been listed under the BNM financial consumer alert list, for suspicion of not adhering to relevant laws and regulations administered by BNM in their operations.

Under the Financial Services Act 2013, individuals or businesses involved in illegal financial activities can be fined up to RM50mil and jailed for 10 years.

When contacted by a Chinese daily, MBI International chairman Tedy Teow’s special assistant Alfa said he did not think that the company would face any problem.

“And it is unnecessary for us to hold a press conference to explain the situation to our investors.

“We are always doing our work and we believe that our investors can see how we are performing so far,” he told Sin Chew Daily.

An investor, H.L. Teoh, said he put in RM22,500 early this year and was given 10,000 game redemption credits.

“Actually, I can start selling it every six months, but I was advised to wait for it to grow bigger in three years.

“When you have lots of credit, it is like having a lot of virtual shares.

“Now, I will have to wait for further instructions from the company before my next course of action,” he said.

Members are allowed to spend their loyalty points, which are converted from virtual money or coins, in exchange for goods and services at affiliated companies, including a supermarket, restaurants, a gym and even a durian stall.

Meanwhile, a press conference called by a branch representative of another controversial financial scheme operator, JJPTR, was cancelled at the last minute.

Press members in Penang had received an invitation from a man known only as Lim at 8.30am yesterday.

However, no reason was given for the cancellation.

JJPTR has been grabbing headlines in the past few weeks since its founder Johnson Lee claimed that the company had lost US$400mil (RM1.738bil) due to a purported “hacking job”.

Lee and two of his top aides have been detained by the police to facilitate investigations following several police reports lodged against JJPTR.

In another case, 19 Chinese nationals lodged police reports in Kuala Lumpur against another multi-level marketing company, claiming that they had lost hundreds of thousands of ringgit.

They claimed to have lost between 100,000 yuan (RM62,536) and 700,000 yuan (RM437,754) since investing in the scheme by Monspace last year.

Founded in 2014, Monspace is listed as a multi-level marketing company, according to the Com­panies Commission of Malaysia.

In an immediate response, Monspace said it would take legal action against any group or individual making defamatory statements against it.

The company said in a statement to the media that it was functioning professionally and had engaged a law firm to keep track of statements made about it.

Source: The Star/ANN by Crystal Chiam Shiying

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Angry & frustrated investors lodged report, tell off staffs trying to buy time!


Angry investors who lodged a police report at the Pekan Kinrara station. Waiting for answers:

His first investment scheme failed with losses estimated at between RM400mil and RM1.7bil but JJPTR founder Johnson Lee has brazenly come up with a new one offering even higher returns of 35% a month and with a car, motorcycles and smartphones thrown in as lucky draw prizes. Many of his investors still have faith in him but those in another scheme, Change Your Life, are in a quandary. They now have to choose between getting lower returns or changing to ‘life points’ – and waiting.

Show me the money: Investors making enquiries at Icon City in Bukit Tengah, Bukit Mertajam. The money scam issue has got many who have parted with their savings feeling anxious

 

JJPTR offers ‘better’ plan

//players.brightcove.net/4405352761001/default_default/index.html?videoId=5418686139001

http://www.thestar.com.my/news/nation/2017/05/03/jjptr-offers-better-plan-founder-promises-higher-returns-but-stays-mum-on-refunds/

After the spectacular collapse of his previous financial scheme, purportedly because of a hacked account, controversial scheme operator Johnson Lee has rolled out a new plan, claiming to offer even better returns.

While JJPTR’s earlier scheme – which ended with RM500mil missing from the company’s account – offered returns of 20% a month, this new one offers 35%.

On top of that, it offers special lucky draws with a new car, motorcycles and smartphones as prizes.

What the company did not say in the shining glossary of the new plan is how Lee plans to address the US$400mil (RM1.73bil) losses he claims the company has incurred.

The new scheme also does not explain how he plans to repay those who lost their money to the earlier scheme.

The one-and-a-half minute video Lee uploaded shows that the new plan is based on a “split mechanism” and has three rounds.

The initial investment in US dollars is “split” or doubled in each round. Half of it is re-invested in the scheme and rolls over to the next round.

Each round lasts 10 days and investors are allowed to convert their earnings back to ringgit after three rounds.

Anyone who invests US$1,000 (RM4,331) is expected to receive US$450 (RM1,949) in each round, making it a return of US$1,350 (RM5,847) by the end of round three.

Under the proposed new scheme, investors will also be rewarded with JJ Points, which can be used in exchange for goods via its shopping platform JJ Mart.

The new scheme was announced by the 28-year-old Lee last Tuesday after news broke that his company had gone bust.

The company did not say when the new plan would start.

Attempts to contact Lee were futile and the number listed on the JJPTR Facebook page is already out of service.

A visit to the company’s offices in Penang showed that investors were no longer lining up for answers.

Instead, the staff, who preferred not to be photographed, were seen sitting at empty counters.

Penang-based JJPTR, or Jie Jiu Pu Tong Ren in Mandarin (salvation for the common people), came under the spotlight when investors complained that they did not get their scheduled payment last month.

JJPTR, JJ Poor to Rich and JJ Global Network are among the entities listed as unauthorised companies under Bank Negara Malaysia’s Financial Consumer Alert.

Records from the Companies Commission of Malaysia showed that JJ Global Network was a “RM2 company” owned by Lee and his former girlfriend Tan Kai Lee, 24. Each hold a single share.

Lee’s father Thean Chye, 58, and Tan are also directors of another company called JJ Global Network Holdings Bhd.

Thean Chye, who was an assistant professor at Southern University College in Johor, resigned on Wednesday after the JJPTR losses came to light.

Source: The Star/ANN

Investor tells off staff after failing to get refund 

 

Business as usual: Employees explaining the refund process and new scheme to investors at the JJPTR main office in Perak Road, Penang.

GEORGE TOWN: An investor, frustrated over not getting a promised refund on his stake, told off several female employees at the main JJPTR office in Perak Road.

The man, in his 40s, was heard having an exchange of words with the staff after being told that it may take “a few more days” before he could get his money.

He told them Johnson Lee, the founder of JJPTR, had said that the money was refunded to JJ2 scheme investors some days ago.

“But until today, I haven’t got my money back.

“I just want to know if the refund has been made or are you in the midst of processing the refund?

“If he has not started the refund, just be honest with the investors.”

He insisted on getting a firm date on when he would get back his money but the employees replied that they would need at least five working days.

He then demanded their names but they refused him.

“You don’t even dare give me your names. If I want to lodge a report, I won’t be able to provide the police with details.

“And don’t tell me you need days for a bank transfer. It only takes hours,” he said.

As he left the office, several journalists approached him for comment but were turned down.

“I don’t want to talk to reporters. You are all just causing trouble for us. I can get things done on my own,” he said.

JJPTR, or Jie Jiu Pu Tong Ren (“salvation for the common people” in Mandarin), is a Penang-based company that came under the spotlight when its investors complained that they did not get their scheduled profits last month.

According to online and media reports, the investors stand to lose RM500mil. They reportedly number in the tens of thousands, comprising Malaysians and foreigners from Canada, the United States and China.

Lee, who has blamed the loss on hackers, put the figure at US$400mil (RM1.75bil) in a widely-circulated video clip.

JJPTR, JJ Poor to Rich and JJ Global Network are listed as unauthorised companies by Bank Negara Malay­sia.

Source: The Star/ANN

JJPTR just trying to buy time, says ‘scam buster’ 

 

“Scam buster” Afyan Mat Rawi has ridiculed JJPTR’s new plan, calling it “unsustainable” and nothing but a forex scheme to placate angry investors.

Once a victim of an investment scam himself, the 37-year-old financial adviser said investors should stay away from the scheme, which he described as “illogical”.

“The investors are angry right now, and JJPTR is trying to pacify them by introducing this new plan.

“A 35% return at the end of the three rounds (one month) is illogical. Where would the company find all the money to reinvest?

“The new plan is just a way for them to buy time,” Afyan said.

He said any investment scheme promising returns of more than 15% in a year will ultimately collapse.

“No legitimate scheme will guarantee an annual return of more than 15%. Any scheme claiming to do otherwise has to be a scam.

“Like most other pyramid schemes, the (JJPTR) forex scheme will collapse when there is no entry of new investors.”

Afyan said that despite getting flak from investors after allegedly losing RM500mil due to its accounts being hacked, it was still “possible” for JJPTR to entice old and new investors to subscribe to the new plan, which promises higher returns and special lucky draws.

“Some investors may leave, because they no longer see hope but those in the “top tier” will continue finding new victims as they’ve already invested so much.

“Unfortunately, there will still be people who believe in them,” he related.

Commenting on a video of founder Johnson Lee announcing the new plan via JJPTR Malaysia’s Facebook page, Afyan said the laws in Malaysia were not harsh enough to serve as deterrent for so-called “scammers”.

He claimed that the only person to have been severely punished for operating an illegal investment scheme was Pak Man Telo, or Othman Hamzah, who was jailed and banished to Terengganu from Perak in the early 1990s.

Othman reportedly enticed 50,000 people to invest in his getrich-quick scheme, commonly known as the Pak Man Telo scheme, and managed to rake in RM90mil before being arrested, tried and sent to prison for two years. He died in Terengganu a few years later.

Ever since then, Afyan claimed, convicted scammers have been getting away easy.

“At most, scammers will be arrested and remanded. But you don’t hear about them serving time in prison. They’ve already made millions, billions, in profits.

“A penalty of a few thousand ringgit is nothing to them,” he said.

Afyan, who lost RM300 to a getrich-quick scheme while he was a university student in 2003, worked in Islamic insurance and financial planning after graduating.

He created a Facebook page in 2008 to share information on questionable investment opportunities, earning him the nickname “scam buster”.

He claims to have uncovered about 50 dubious companies so far.

Source: The Star/ANN

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Good time to invest in property now


Better upside: (from left) Knight Frank Sdn Bhd international project marketing (residential) senior manager Dominic Heaton-Watson, Knight Frank Asia-Pacific research head Nicholas Holt, Sarkunan and capital markets executive director James Buckley at the event

KUALA LUMPUR: The slowdown in the local property market has bottomed out, with prices seen picking up later this year, according to property consultancy firm Knight Frank Sdn Bhd.

“We predict a stable rate in 2017 and we will possibly see better upside towards the end of the year or early next year,” Knight Frank managing director Sarkunan Subramaniam said.

“The market has had a few years of contraction and we feel that this year, what will clear up one of the major concerns of most investors is the political uncertainty,” he said at the launch of Knight Frank’s 2017 Wealth Report here yesterday.

According to the report, “political uncertainty” was among the top concerns of its respondents in Asia at 25%.

“We’re going to have elections possibly this year. Once they have cleared, there will be positive movement in the market and that’s why I feel now is a good time to buy property in Malaysia.

“Once the elections are out, the economy will generally start picking up and sentiments will improve. Capital will also start coming in,” he said.

According to the wealth report, potential fall in asset values was the highest concern among its Asian respondents at 30%, followed by rising taxes and tighter controls on capital movement at 28% and 27% respectively.

Going forward, Sarkunan said affordable homes would primarily drive the local property market.

“Affordable homes will still be a driver to an extent, but medium-to-high end properties will also pick up again. Also, when the mass rapid transit (MRT) lines come into the city, it will drive the commercial market there as well.

“We’ve had a lot of decentralisation push over the last 10 years and the MRT will bring office workers to the city.”

Sarkunan pointed out that locations with light rail transit (LRT) and MRT lines, such as Damansara Heights, have bucked the trend in terms of condominium values.

“Prices have actually increased compared with some of the other areas in Malaysia. Transport hubs or transport-orientated developments, such as Kota Damansara, have also seen improvements in prices.”

The Knight Frank 2017 Wealth Report tracks the value of luxury homes in 100 key locations worldwide, including 19 destinations from Asia Pacific.

According to the report, values rose globally by 1.4% on average last year, compared with 1.8% in 2015. Asia was the second best performing world region last year, with prices rising 5.1%.

Australasia was the strongest performing world region with prices rising 11.4% year-on-year.

Source: BY EUGENE MAHALINGAM The Star/ANN

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Global Reset 2016~2017


In a world facing challenges and uncertainties, embrace opportunities for success through innovation.

“I went looking for my dreams outside of myself and discovered, it’s not what the world holds for you, it’s what you bring to it. –Anne Shirley”

THE world is currently at a paradox. Tensions and uncertainty for the future are rising in times of prevailing peace and prosperity. While changes are taking place at an incredibly fast speed, such changes are presenting unprecedented opportunities to those who are willing to innovate.

Recently, most global currencies had weakened against the US dollar (USD). This may give rise to some concern, but it is worth placing in proper perspective that most countries would trade with a few countries instead of just one. Furthermore, we are living in a world with low economic growth, increased mobility and rapid urbanisation.

In such a global landscape, it is important to embrace change and innovation in a courageous way to shape a better future. In L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables, Anne Shirley said, “I went looking for my dreams outside of myself and discovered, it’s not what the world holds for you, it’s what you bring to it.”

Paradox, change and opportunity

In the World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness Report 2016-2017, World Economic Forum head of the centre for the global agenda and member of the managing board Richard Samans stated that at a time of rising income inequality, mounting social and political tensions and a general feeling of uncertainty about the future, growth remains persistently low.

Commodity prices have fallen, as has trade; external imbalances are increasing and government finances are stressed.

However, it also comes during one of the most prosperous and peaceful times in recorded history, with less disease, poverty and violence than ever before. Against this backdrop of seeming contradictions, the Fourth Industrial Revolution brings both unprecedented opportunity and an accelerated speed of change.

Creating the conditions necessary to reignite growth could not be more urgent. Incentivising innovation is especially important for finding new growth engines, but laying the foundations for long-term, sustainable growth requires working on all factors and institutions identified in the Global Competitiveness Index.

Leveraging the opportunities of the Fourth Industrial Revolution will require not only businesses willing and able to innovate, but also sound institutions, both public and private; basic infrastructure, health and education, macroeconomic stability and well-functioning labour, financial and human capital markets.

World Economic Forum editor Klaus Schwab stated in The Fourth Industrial Revolution that we are at the beginning of a global transformation that is characterised by the convergence of digital, physical and biological technologies in ways that are changing both the world around us and our very idea of what it means to be human. The changes are historic in terms of their size, speed and scope.

This transformation – the Fourth Industrial Revolution – is not defined by any particular set of emerging technologies themselves, but by the transition to new systems that are being built on the infrastructure of the digital revolution. As these individual technologies become ubiquitous, they will fundamentally alter the way we produce, consume, communicate, move, generate energy and interact with one another.

Given the new powers in genetic engineering and neurotechnology, they may directly impact who we are, and how we think and behave. The fundamental and global nature of this revolution also pose new threats related to the disruptions it may cause, affecting labour markets and the future of work, income inequality and geopolitical security, as well as social value systems and ethical frameworks.


A dollar story

When set in a global landscape where there is uncertainty for the future, when compared to other countries, Malaysia’s economy is performing quite well.

ForexTime vice president of market research Jameel Ahmad said, “When you combine what is happening on a global level, the Malaysian economy is in quite an envious position.”

For 2016, the USD has moved to levels not seen in over 12 years. The dollar index is trading above 100. This was previously seen as a psychological top for USD.

The Malaysian ringgit (MYR) is not alone in the devaluation of its currency. All of the emerging market currencies have been affected in recent weeks.

Similarly, the British £(GBP) has lost 30% this year, falling from US$1.50 to US$1.25 per GBP. The Euro (EUR) has fallen from US$1.15 to US$1.05 in three weeks.

The China Yuan Renmenbi (CNY) is hitting repeated historic lows against the USD. The CNY is only down around 5%.

Jameel believes that the outlook for the USD will be further strengthened. While the dollar was already expected to maintain demand due to the consistent nature of US economic data, the levels of fiscal stimulus that US Presidentelect Donald Trump is aiming to deliver to the US economy will encourage borrowing rates to go up.

This means that it is now more likely than ever that the Federal Reserve will need to accelerate its cycle of monetary policy normalisation (interest rate rises).

Most were expecting higher interest rates in 2017. Trump has also publicly encouraged stronger interest rates. However, when considered that Trump is also promising heavy levels of fiscal stimulus, there is a justified need for higher interest rates, otherwise inflation in the United States will be at risk of getting out of control.

The probability for further gains in the USD due to the availability of higher yields from increased interest rates will mean further pressure to the emerging market currencies.

With populism resulting in victories in both the United States’ presidential election and the EU referendum in the United Kingdom in 2016, attention should be given to the real political issues in Europe and the upcoming political elections in 2017, such as those in Germany and France.

Jameel said, “Until recently, political instability was only associated with developing economies. We are now experiencing a strong emergence across the developed markets. This might lure investors towards keeping their capital within the emerging markets longer. Only time will tell.”

In Malaysia’s case, the economy is still performing at robust levels, despite slowing headline growth. Growth rates in Malaysia are still seen as significantly stronger than those in the developed world.

There are going to be challenges from a stronger USD and other risks such as slowing trade, but the emerging markets are still recording stronger growth rates than the developed world.

Adapting to creative destruction

In a world where changes are taking place rapidly, the ability to adapt to changes plays an important role in encouraging innovation and growth. Global cities are achieving rapid growth by attracting the talented, high value workers that all companies, across industries, want to recruit.

In an era where 490 million people around the world reside in countries with negative interest rates, over 60% of the world’s citizens now own a smartphone and an estimated four billion people live in cities, which is an increase of 23% compared to 10 years ago, these three key trends are shaping our times.

Knight Frank head of commercial John Snow and Newmark Grubb Knight Frank president James D. Kuhn shared that the era of low to negative interest rates has reduced investors’ expectations on what constitutes an acceptable return. The financial roller coaster ride that led to this situation has made safe haven assets highly sought after.

A volatile economy has not stopped an avalanche of technological innovation. Smartphones, tablets, Wi-Fi and 4G have revolutionised the spread of information, increased our ability to work on the move, and led to a flourishing of entrepreneurship.

Fast-growing cities are taking centre stage in the innovation economy and in most of the global cities, supply is not keeping pace with demand for both commercial and residential real estate.

Consequently, tech and creative firms are increasingly relying upon pre-let deals to accommodate growth, while their young workers struggle to find affordable homes.

As the urban economy becomes increasingly people-centric, regardless of a city being driven by finance, aerospace, commodities, defence or manufacturing, the most important asset is a large pool of educated and creative workers.

Consequently, real estate is increasingly a business that seeks to build an environment that attracts and retains such people.

Knight Frank chief economist and editor of global cities James Roberts said, “We are moving into an era where creative people are a highly prized commodity. Cities will thrive or sink on their ability to attract this key demographic.

“A characteristic of the global economy in the last decade has been the phenomenon of stagnation and indeed decline, occurring alongside innovation and success. If you were invested in the right places and technologies, the last decade has been a great time to make money; yet at the same time, some people have lost fortunes.

“The locations that have performed best in this unpredictable environment have generally hosted the creative and technology industries that lead the digital revolution, and disrupt established markets.” The rise of aeroplanes, automobiles and petroleum created economic booms in the cities that led the tech revolution of the 1920s and 30s. Yet elsewhere, recession descended on locations with the industries that lost market share to those new technologies like ship building, train manufacturing and coal mining.

In a world where abundant economic opportunities in one region live alongside stagnation elsewhere, it is not easy to reconcile the fact that countries that were booming just a few years ago on rising commodity prices are now adapting to slower growth.

Just as surprising are Western cities that are now thriving as innovation centres, when they were dismissed as busted flushes in 2009 due to their high exposure to financial centres.

Roberts said, “This is creative destruction at work in the modern context. The important lesson for today’s property investor or occupier of business space, is to ensure you are on-the ground where the ‘creation’ is occurring and have limited exposure to the ‘destruction’. This is not easy, as the pace of technological change is accelerating at a speed where the old finds itself overtaken by the new.

“However, real estate in the global cities arguably offers a hedged bet against this uncertainty due to the nature of the modern urban economy, where those facing destruction, quickly reposition towards the next wave of creation.”

The industries that drive the modern global city are not dependent upon machinery or commodities but people, who deliver economic flexibility.

A locomotive plant cannot easily retool to make electric cars, raising a shortcoming of the single industry factory town. Similarly, an oil field in Venezuela has limited value for any other commercial activity.

However, a modern office building in a global city like Paris can quickly move from accommodating bankers in rows of desks to techies in flexible work space. Therefore, there is adaptability in the people in a service economy city which is matched by the city’s real estate.

In the people-driven global cities, a new industry can redeploy the ‘infantry’ from a fading industry via recruitment. Similarly, the professional and business service companies that served the banks, now serve a new clientele of digital firms.

In contrast, manufacturing or commodity-driven economies face greater barriers when reinventing themselves.

Today, landlords across the world struggle with how to judge the covenants of firms who have not been in existence long enough to have three years of accounts, but are clearly the future.

Consequently, both landlord and tenant need to approach real estate deals with flexibility. Landlords will need to give ground on lease term and financial track record, and occupiers must compensate the landlord for the increased risk via a higher rent.

Another big challenge for the Western global cities will be competition from emerging market cities that succeed in repositioning themselves away from manufacturing, and towards creative services. The process has started, with Shanghai now seeing a rapid expansion of its tech and creative industries.

The big Western centres still lead in services, but the challenge from emerging markets cities did not end with the commodities rout. They are just experiencing creative destruction and will emerge stronger to present a new challenge to the West.

From Mak Kum Shi The Star/ANN
 

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Money lost under the shadow banking: loan sharks Ah Long


 

IN my previous article, I shared the impact of high credit card interest rate that many have overlooked and hence, overspent. Interestingly, there are loans outside the confines of financial institutions that affect the mass. These loans are largely unregulated and therefore, more painful in terms of financial burden and emotional stress when the loan and interest cannot be repaid on time.

Every now and then, I will receive text messages from unknown contacts offering loans at “attractive” rates. A check with my close associates indicates that I am not alone in receiving such messages. These messages and those stickers offering loans on the streets share the same traits, i.e. easy loan with no pre-qualification required. Example – “Borrow RM1,000, and return RM200 monthly for six months”.

At first glance, it seems like the interest rate for the loan is 20%. However, as the repayment period is only six months, it is actually 40% per annum! This rate is 11 times higher compared with the average fixed deposit rate of 3.5% per annum in the market.

These loans are offered mostly by unlicensed moneylenders, otherwise commonly known as “loan sharks”. According to a news article published in The Star recently, the interest they charged are mostly counted based on monthly or even daily rest basis.

It is learnt from the article that people usually borrow between RM1,000 and RM10,000 at an interest rate of 0.5% to 1% per day. This works up to about 15% to 30% monthly. When the loan is defaulted, another 5% is added as a late repayment penalty.

It therefore becomes evident that the borrowers of such loans face immense problem repaying their loans. They will generally end up borrowing from other moneylender to cover their existing loan which will lead them to more debts. Imagine the emotional stress from harassment when they are unable to serve the interest.

Sadly, this loan with its easy application process and low requirement attracts people who are financially desperate, regardless of professional or income group.

Bank Negara has announced that Malaysia’s household debt-to-gross domestic product (GDP) ratio has increased from 86.8% to 89.1% as of 2015. We have one of the highest household debts in the region without including the unregulated loans from these “moneylenders”. I wonder how this “shadow banking” or “off balance sheet transaction” impact our people and economy.

To protect the rakyat, the government should look at strengthening the enforcement of eliminating illegal money lending.

As the saying goes “where there is demand, there is supply”. Hence the key is to first understand why people resort to borrowing from these “moneylenders”. It is important to strengthen financial education and awareness of public through various channels.

People, especially children, should be taught to borrow for the right things from young, and understand the difference between good debt and bad debt. More importantly, people should learn to ask themselves if there is a real need to borrow. Borrowing money to buy assets that depreciate over a short period of time, such as cars and luxury items is deemed as “bad debt”. This is in stark contrast to “good debt”, such as buying a home or asset that has the possibility of appreciating in the long term, and at the same time, paying a much lower interest rate compared with bad debts.

For people with a genuine need for financing, there are many other options such as borrowing from the banks and legal money lenders, or even to the explore “fintech”, a financial technology which offers more efficient and cheaper financial services through the use of technology. Again, it is important to ensure these channels are legal and well regulated.

Borrowing from unregulated moneylenders is like jumping from the frying pan into the fire. It is important to have wise financial planning in the first place and always seek advice before doing anything financially. One may get advice from government agencies, such as Agensi Kaunseling dan Pengurusan Kredit, when faced with financial challenges.


By Datuk Alan Tong, who has over 50 years of experience in property development. He was the World President of FIABCI International for 2005/2006 and awarded the Property Man of the Year 2010 at FIABCI Malaysia Property Award. He is also the group chairman of Bukit Kiara Properties. For feedback, please email feedback@fiabci-asiapacific.com.

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Homestays, a booming business: Homes vs hotels, a study of the industry


Homestays, a booming business

HOMESTAYS, once popular in rural areas, have now become big businesses in towns and cities nationwide.

Thousands of homeowners have discovered how to make money with their properties and avoid paying taxes.

They have joined global home-sharing marketplaces, and just like how Uber has made life for government-regulated taxi drivers difficult, the home-sharing phenomenon is shaving off hotel revenues.

By paying a mere 3% service fee per booking, homeowners – also called hosts – can connect with over 60 million travellers worldwide through online giants like American company Airbnb and Singapore-based HomeAway.

Airbnb’s website has a tool to help homeowners gauge their expected weekly income and according to this, the country’s chart-toppers are those in Langkawi who can make RM2,801 a week, followed by those around Malacca’s Jonker Walk (RM2,495 a week).

Close behind are Penang home-shares in Tanjung Tokong (RM2,494) and Pulau Tikus (RM2,449). In Bukit Bintang in Kuala Lumpur, they can expect to earn RM1,676 weekly, while those near Taman Pelangi in Johor Baru can expect RM2,287 a week.

The above estimated earnings are for apartments or houses catering to groups of five travellers.

There are homeshares even in the hinterlands. They can make an average of RM923 a week in Kota Baru, Kelantan. In Kangar, Perlis, homeshares can expect to collect RM1,619 a week.

Unlike hotel occupancies, the government has no knowledge nor way of tracking these check-ins.

All the payments are transacted via the home-sharing portals’ overseas payment gateways and the earnings are transferred to homeowners through international money wires, PayPal or direct deposits.

Their guests are also “exempted” from the RM2 per room per night heritage tax fee in Malacca and Penang’s local government fee of RM3 per room per night for four-star and five-star hotels, and RM2 per room per night for three stars and below.

“They don’t have to pay corporate or income taxes. They don’t need to collect GST or report their occupancy rates.

“They don’t need to install fire doors or water sprinkler systems. If this goes on, budget hotels can just take down their signboards and become home-share operators,” said Malaysia Budget Hotels Association president P.K. Leong.

He said his association had raised the issue of home-sharing with the government several times and urged them to regulate this business but no action had been taken.

“We estimate about 15% of our business is being siphoned into the home-sharing market. And it’s not really sharing,” he said.

“People are buying residential properties specifically to start short-term rental businesses. We believe this is growing at an alarming rate but we don’t have any way to track them.”

In 2014, Airbnb was reported to have over 800,000 listings worldwide. Now, the company declares on its website that it has over two million.

Five-star resorts contacted, however, do not feel threatened by the home-sharing operators.

Managers in two five-star hotels, who declined to be named, said these setups target budget travellers who come to Penang on business or already know what to do when they come to Penang.

“Our hotel offers a level of service not found in home-shares. It’s a different market,” said one manager. – By Arnold Loh The Star

Homes versus hotels

 

Home-sharing services like Airbnb are becoming a hit among Malaysians. But hotels are urging the Government to regulate such services, claiming that rental of private apartments and studio units is illegal. Noting such calls, the Government is currently discussing how to address the matter.

LIVING rooms instead of hotel lobbies. Apartment units instead of hotel suites. This is the trend today.

More Malaysian holiday-makers are choosing to rent private properties as accommodation on their trips, instead of booking hotel rooms.

They do this using home-sharing services like Airbnb and Singapore-based HomeAway, which offer travellers the option to stay in a local host’s property.
Ranging from single rooms to entire apartment units, guests can book their accommodation from hosts, who list their property on such websites to be leased out for a fee.

Sometimes, the fees are even lower than the room rates offered by hotels.

This is one of the factors that drive the popularity of such services, with the San Francisco-based Airbnb having over two million property listings for rent from local hosts in about 191 countries around the world.

In Malaysia, home-sharing services are also gaining traction among travellers and homeowners, who want to earn some income from offering short-term rentals.

However, the hotel industry in the country is claiming that such services are eating into their business, with some estimating about 5% to 15% of their business being diverted.

Hoteliers are also saying that consumers are not fully protected under such arrangements.

Likening home-sharing services like Airbnb to Uber in the taxi business, hoteliers claim that the hosts are not subjected to the same regulations imposed on hotels and do not need to pay taxes or collect the Goods and Services Tax (GST).

As the industry calls on the Government to regulate such services, the Tourism and Culture Ministry says discussions are ongoing to address the matter while the Urban Wellbeing, Housing and Local Government Ministry is open to feedback on the issue.

Malaysian Association of Hotels president Sam Cheah sees the growing popularity of such home-sharing platforms like Airbnb as a threat to the hotel industry.

“It isn’t a level playing ground because the hosts who are offering their properties for rent are not subjected to the same requirements, including safety standards,” he says.

Cheah points out that the hosts can afford to offer lower rates because their operating costs to run their businesses are smaller.

“They pay domestic usage for quit rent and utility bills. They are not required to adhere to safety requirements such as installing proper fire protection,” he adds.

Cheah explains that hotels also have public liability insurance and protect consumers in the event of negligence or fire.

“We are obligated to protect our customers. But there is no such policy for home-sharing hosts,” he says, urging consumers to be aware of such risks.

Cheah also points out that it is illegal for homeowners to operate a business for tourists and travellers when the property is meant for domestic dwelling.

“It is unfair for residents who are neighbours of such hosts as they will have strangers walking in and out of the premises,” he says.

These tourists will also be using the swimming pool, gym and other facilities meant for residents.

However, Cheah says the association, which consists of 881 member hotels, cannot discount or prevent such a business model from being practised.

“But the Government should regulate such businesses to protect tourists and make it an even playing field for hotel operators,” he says.

If left unchecked and unregulated, Cheah foresees the Government will have a problem dealing with the projected 36 million tourist arrivals by 2020.

“If we do not regulate Airbnb and other home-sharing services, we wouldn’t be able to monitor the industry. We wouldn’t know if we have an oversupply or over-development and businesses may lose out.

“It is just like Uber and GrabCar in the taxi industry. You cannot stop them but you have to regulate them. Then it makes sense,” he says.

Echoing Cheah’s call to the Government to impose regulations, Malaysian Association of Hotel Owners secretary Anthony Wong calls such home-sharing services illegal as hosts are not licensed to provide lodging and insurance for guests.

“It is amounting to making private arrangements and guests who are hurt during their stay are unable to claim insurance for any mishaps.

“As legal entities, hotels have permits to comply with. Our operating costs are expensive and we pay taxes,” says Wong, adding that hotel rates are also competitively priced.

He claims that the emergence of such services and illegal homestays have caused hoteliers to lose about 5% in revenue.

Acknowledging the concerns by hotels, Tourism and Culture Ministry secretary-general Tan Sri Dr Ong Hong Peng says the ministry has received complaints from the industry on the emergence of home-sharing platforms.

“This issue has been acknowledged and discussed extensively by the Special Task Force on Service Delivery and its working group.

“This working group is represented by government agencies such as the ministry, Malaysia Productivity Corporation, the Urban Wellbeing, Housing and Local Government Ministry and the police,” he tells Sunday Star.

Dr Ong adds that the question of regulating home-sharing platforms and conducting enforcement on homeowners under such services comes under the purview of local councils.

In the meantime, the ministry has its Malaysian Homestay Programme, which offers a unique experience to tourists.

“The programme enables tourists to stay and interact with local families who act as hosts.

“Under this programme, families and their houses register with the ministry after completing the homestay training module and following the guidelines,” he explains.

But Dr Ong points out that this is different from merely offering accommodation as it is a community-based tourism programme which offers tourists a lifestyle experience of rural villages.

In 2015, Malaysia attracted 25.7 million tourist arrivals, a decline of 6.3% compared to 27.4 million tourist arrivals in 2014.

For the first quarter of 2016, Malaysia registered an increase of 2.8% in tourist arrivals, which Dr Ong perceives as a positive outlook.

“A strong growth in arrivals is expected for the remainder of this year,” he says.

Former Urban Wellbeing, Housing and Local Government Minister Datuk Abdul Rahman Dahlan, who was just replaced in a Cabinet reshuffle on Monday, says it is still too early to decide whether to regulate homeowners involved in home-sharing services.

“This will require extensive discussion. The ministry welcomes feedback from stakeholders on this matter, including hoteliers, and will be more than happy to listen to their concerns,” he says.

The issue of regulating or even banning Airbnb and other home-sharing marketplaces is of growing concern.

Recently, it was reported that New York State in the United States may make it illegal to advertise apartments on Airbnb if a Bill is made into law by Governor Andrew Cuomo.

Meanwhile, the German capital of Berlin has stopped tourists from renting entire apartment units using Airbnb and other similar websites. The move bans homeowners from leasing their property to tourists without a city permit.

Japan released national guidelines for home-sharing services, making properties only available for rent if guests stay for a week or longer.

Other places are more receptive towards home-sharing platforms, including London, which amended housing legislation that makes it legal for locals to rent out their homes through websites like Airbnb. –  By Yuen Meikeng The Star

Airbnb: Malaysia is a really ‘exciting growth market’ 

AS more Malaysians open their homes to tourists, Airbnb describes Malaysia as an “exciting growth market”.

Nevertheless, the world’s leading community-driven hospitality company also encourages hosts to familiarise themselves with regulations in their area.

“These can differ from council to council and even street to street, all over the world,” Airbnb tells Sunday Star in an email.

Despite the growth of Airbnb across Malaysia, the company says the traditional hotel sector continues to do well too, with growth in occupancy and room rates.

“We’re proud of the economic benefits Airbnb provides to families, communities and local businesses that otherwise wouldn’t benefit from the tourist dollar,” it says.

Overwhelmingly, Airbnb says its hosts are renting out their homes occasionally, earning a little extra to help supplement their income.

“The vast majority of our hosts across Malaysia are everyday people renting their spare room or home occasionally, not commercial operators,” it adds.

Airbnb also says it has a good working relationship with the Malaysian Government and have partnered with it in the past.

In December last year, it was reported that a pilot project was being conducted in Malacca involving 130 homestays in 11 villages to help them market their business using online listings.

The programme was a collaboration between the Multimedia Development Corporation, the International Trade and Industry Ministry, the Tourism and Culture Ministry and Airbnb.

Airbnb says over 80 million guests have had a safe, positive experience using the platform.

“We help promote positive experiences through a global trust and safety team available 24/7, authentic reviews, verified profile information, and the $1 Million Host Guarantee,” it says.

A check on its website showed that the Host Guarantee will reimburse eligible hosts for damages up to A$1mil (RM3.06mil).

“The Host Guarantee should not be considered a replacement or stand-in for homeowners or renters insurance,” read the website.

Airbnb also has a refund policy for guests if the host fails to provide reasonable access to the booked listing, the listing booked is misrepresented or isn’t generally clean or unsafe, among others.

“Airbnb’s community operates on the principles of trust and respect. Our host and guest review systems demonstrate our commitment to responsible behaviour,” it says.

Meanwhile, some local Airbnb hosts in Malaysia have mixed views about the idea of having the Government regulate their business.

A full-time Airbnb host in Malacca, known only as Chen, says she welcomes such a move as long as it is done fairly and does not overly restrict the business.

“It can be beneficial for both the hosts and guests.

“If we are given licences by the Government, we can even put up signages to advertise our business. And for guests, they would have more protection,” says the 30-year-old lass who rents out one apartment and two townhouses.

Chen, a former marketing manager, quit her job two years ago to become a full-time Airbnb host, calling it her “interest and passion”.

She denies having any opposition from her neighbours in renting out her properties to tourists.

“I informed my neighbours before doing this. While they were initially doubtful, they are now happy I have guests,” Chen adds.

And in the event the Government decides to ban such services, Chen says hosts like herself will transform and adapt to the situation.

“This is the global trend and many are using this business model now. It is important to stay competitive and adapt to the times,” she says.

Another full-time host, Ridzuan Effendy, 29, hopes the Government does not impose regulations on Airbnb.

“Home-sharing services aren’t the same as hotels. Many tourists use Airbnb because the prices are cheaper compared to hotels.

“It is a case of having a willing buyer and seller. It shouldn’t be illegal,” says the former engineer, who lists his properties in Kuala Lumpur.

Related: Travellers drawn to cheap prices

Home-shares annoy neighbours 

BE nice. Buy fruits for your guests or colouring books for their kids and potentially make RM8,000 or more each month renting your apartment or house to short-stay tourists.

Unofficial hotel: At one time, nine of the 28 units of one of the blocks in Halaman Pulau Tikus were available for short-term rentals by medical tourists.>>>

The key performance indicators for home-share operators are the guest reviews on their listings in global marketplaces like Airbnb and HomeAway.

“My guests and I review each other. It’s like Uber (global ride hailing app). You will know your guests’ reputation and your guests will also know yours.

“If anything bad happens, the guests or I can report it to Airbnb and we can be banned,” said an operator in Penang who only wants to be known as Sue, a housewife.

She rents out a house in Batu Ferringhi (RM320 a night) and a condominium unit in Pulau Tikus (RM400 a night) as a host on Airbnb and said her properties were now rated four-and-a-half stars.

The location may seem to be a secondary consideration, with one three-bedroom low-medium cost apartment in Air Itam having a five-star rating on Airbnb.

“It may look like a low-cost apartment from the outside and parking is limited. But it is lovely inside. Love the design and everything,” wrote a reviewer.

From the photos on this listing, the owner had decorated the place with a profusion of wallpaper and the furnishings and paintings within can rival a plush hotel room. There is bed space for up to eight guests and it is only RM150 a night.

But the surge of home-share operators may have inconvenienced neighbours.

Halaman Pulau Tikus management corporation chairman Khoo Boo Eng said his block in Lengkok Berjaya had become the haunt of medical tourists looking for a place to stay while seeking treatment here since several years ago.

He said he had seen medical tourists arrive who were truly sick.

“They shouldn’t be allowed to stay in our residential area. Some of my neighbours are worried that if they had contagious diseases, we would all be at risk,” he said.

He said at one time, nine out of 28 apartments in his block were rented out this way and many unit owners complained about the constant flow of strangers.

“Ours is a small, exclusive residence. We had to install extra security cameras and have a security guard 24 hours a day for our residents’ safety.

“They are making commercial use of their residential properties. We are planning to take them to court and seek injunctions to stop them from renting to short-stay guests,” he said.

Earlier in the week, officials from four departments of the Penang Island City Council (MBPP) carried out a spot check and four unit owners in Birch Regency Condominium in Datuk Keramat were fined RM250 each for operating a business without licence.

They knocked on the doors of 15 units believed to be available for rent on a short-term basis and found four being occupied – two units by Singaporeans, one by Australians and another by Canadians.

Tanjung MP Ng Wei Aik, who was present, said the officers spoke to the foreigners who confirmed they were here on holiday.

However, owners argued that there were no laws prohibiting them from renting out their units for any length of time.

One hurdle they had to go through is the complaints from other condo owners.

“We get many complaints from our fellow residents about these short-stay guests. We’re just doing our duty to maintain the peace in our condominium,” said a condominium committee member.

When contacted, Penang Island City Council Building Department director Yew Tung Seang said there could be a legal loophole that would make it hard for authorities to stop residential property owners from offering short-term rentals.

“Property owners have the right to earn rent and there is a grey area over short-term and long-term rentals.

“But when apartments or houses become like hotels, their operations can become a nuisance for neighbours.

“The council is planning a machinery to control this sort of activity,” he added.

In January, Johor Tourism, Trade and Consumerism committee chairman Datuk Tee Siew Kiong was reported as saying that homestay operators at housing estates in the urban areas in the state would no longer be allowed to use the word “homestay” to promote their accommodation.

He said there were plans to regulate and standardise the homestay segment in Johor.

He said many home owners in the urban areas had converted their properties into homestay facilities to cater to customers looking for a short stay.

In the United States’ New York State, legislators tabled a bill last month to ban the advertising of short-term home rentals of less than 30 days, with fines of up to US$7,500 (RM30,000).

“Every day I hear from New Yorkers who are sick and tired of living in buildings that have been turned into illegal hotels through Airbnb because so many units are rented out to tourists, not permanent residents,” Manhattan assembly-woman Linda Rosenthal was reported as saying last month.

It was reported that New York City has over 40,000 home-share listings and each earns an average of US$5,700 (RM23,300) a month.

Study the homestay industry

 

I REFER to the reports “Home versus hotels” and “Travellers drawn to cheap prices” ( Sunday Star, July 3) and “Govern home-share under new laws” (see above).

It is well known that homestay is popular not only in Malaysia but also all over the world now. I have used both types of lodgings and find pros and cons in both.

Homestays are likened to the Airbnb concept which was launched in 2008 and has experienced rapid growth since then. Statistics show that at the end of 2015, Airbnb hosted eight million guests, chalked up three million nights of cumulative booking, were used by 50,000 renters per night and has a market capitalisation of US$2.5bil. This demonstrates the effectiveness and popularity of the concept used by Airbnb.

However, in the US where this concept began, there is concern among the traditional hospitality industry that it is a threat to their business. There is pressure on the government to either put a stop to Airbnb activities or regulate them. According to a report commissioned by hotel associations in the US, some of the financial effects of Airbnb (focused in New York city but gives a strong indication of what may be happening in other parts of the world too) are:

i) Airbnb is growing because it is less labour intensive and requires lower level of service;

ii) There is no marginal cost for such services as new rooms can be added incrementally (or removed) and overheads are negligible compared to hotels;

iii) Hotels were losing revenue due to loss of room nights. This also had an ancillary effect on other services offered by the hotels such as F&B outlets and business centres; and

iv) Hotels in areas where Airbnb is established have responded to increased competition by reducing their prices.

I also looked up issues of competition in this market which may be a cause for concern. If we look at the homestay concept, what it offers is the opportunity for consumers on the supply side to supplement their income by providing a service via a peer-to-peer platform. It also offers travellers a chance to live like the locals and take part in cultural exchanges.

It is also basically a connection where supply meets demand and other needs such as budget constraints, personalised service, easy accessibility and homely atmosphere and all are rolled into one. Airbnb portrays itself as “a platform that allows the little guy to build up a complimentary industry, one that increases the size of the hospitality pie rather than take a slice from existing business.”

Applying this concept in Malaysia, it is a wonderful way to not only expand our hospitality industry especially in areas where hotel rooms are limited or extremely expensive but also allow locals to interact (people from the peninsula going to Sabah and Sarawak and vice versa, for example) or foreigners a chance to live like the locals.

This would in turn generate a multiplier effect on the local economy as other services such as restaurants, laundry, cleaning or transport would be required to support the homestay service. Besides all these, it would put money in the pockets of local residents and also support small businesses outside the hotel districts.

Will the homestay industry be a threat to the hotels? From a competition point of view, there may be some concerns (especially to budget hotels) but these could easily be overcome with careful formulation of policies and guidelines.

As consumer demand has shifted, the markets are or may be different, and it is ultimately up to the consumer to choose where he wants to stay.

Hotels are mainly located in the city or town centres and offer better services, amenities and standards. On the other hand, homestays and Airbnb serve up lodging options that cater to a more local and less touristy experience. Hotels and Airbnb/ homestays operate differently so there is room for both to coexist as long as they are after different customers.

Having said that, regulators and policy makers in Malaysia need to carefully study the implications of introducing regulations to homestay or Airbnb users from the supply side. Many countries have taken steps to address the issues emerging from the rapid rise of Airbnb and homestays. It would be useful for the Malaysia Competition Commission (MyCC) to commission a study on the effects of such concepts on the hospitality industry in Malaysia. This will then give the policy makers some empirical studies to formulate the required guidelines or regulations.

Competition is always threatened when there is a threat to the sharing economy (as in Uber versus the traditional taxi service). The sharing economy is where industry can collaboratively make use of under-utilised inventory via fee-based sharing. The market is always uncertain and nervous when a new marketplace is created, which in turn increases the difficulty of defining the market in competition law. The way businesses are being done and change in consumers’ tastes all merit a thorough study before any action is taken to manage a growing industry.

Two factors have arguable given rise to the rapid growth of peer-to-peer platforms – technology innovations and supply side flexibility. A win-win situation is always possible. If competition is distorted, as in when people buy into residential property to turn it into a business venture, that is when the authorities could step in.

By SHILA DORAI RAJ Founding and former CEO Malaysia Competition Commission

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