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The world is changing and so too, the way business is done

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Last Sunday, the ride-sharing app ‘Uber’ arrived in Trinidad. And already, anyone the world over, looking to book a room in a private home in St Vincent and the Grenadines, and ‘experience the country like a local,’ will find 56 properties listed on Airbnb.

Uber, the world’s largest taxi firm, owns no cars and Airbnb, world’s largest accommodation provider, owns no property, yet these two technology platforms are posing serious challenges to traditional providers of taxi and accommodation services, forcing them to rethink their business models.

The Uber app allows consumers with smartphones to submit a trip request, following which software automatically sends the request to the nearest Uber driver, alerting the driver to the location of the customer and where he or she wants to go. The typical Uber driver is not a professional taxi driver, but the owner of a private vehicle looking to make some money on the side. And because Uber defines itself not as a taxi service, but rather an online service provider, it cannot be regulated under Trinidad and Tobago’s Motor Vehicle and Road Traffic Act, which prohibits anyone who is not a registered taxi driver from operating a car for hire.

With the Airbnb service, anyone can rent an entire home, a private room or a shared room in someone’s private home; ordinary people with a room or two to spare can register to become a host.

Uber and Airbnb are just two examples of technology ‘platform players,’ which are changing the way business is done all over the world and right here in SVG. Another example of such a platform player is Netflix, which has turned the cable tv industry inside out, much in the same way that services like Whatsapp voice calls have not been well received by telecommunications companies that are still looking for ways to make as much money from data plans as they did from voice plans; legacy media like newspapers likewise are similarly trying to find ways to monetize their online content.

But traditional businesses are not the only stakeholders who are being forced, by these new platform players, to rethink the way they operate. Most of these new platform players flourish under the radar, without the overheads and regulations to which traditional, registered businesses must adhere. The growing popularity and ubiquitous nature of these ‘plaform players’ must already be making policy makers sit up and take notice, as increasingly they will find, as Trinidad and Tobago recently did, that existing taxation models, laws and regulations do not apply to the new way of doing things. Change we must.

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