Airbnb Counters Critics On Housing Supply And Tax Collection

Mar 14, 2017
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The hotel industry says it's exposed what's really going on with Airbnb. That's the website that allows private homeowners to rent their houses and apartments to travelers. Any person becomes like a little hotel owner. Travelers get distinct experiences. The hotel industry contends that something else is really happening.

Property managers, not individual homeowners, are doing lots of the renting. Airbnb disputes the study, which comes in the midst of a larger battle. NPR's Yuki Noguchi reports.

YUKI NOGUCHI, BYLINE: To understand the stakes, consider this. On New Year's Eve, 2 million guests rented rooms on Airbnb. That's the equivalent of all the rooms Marriott and Hilton's brands have worldwide. Hotels say they face higher levels of taxation and regulation, even though Airbnb competes directly. The report, commissioned by the American Hotel and Lodging Association, says a growing number of listings on Airbnb come from property managers.

Katherine Lugar, the association's CEO, says the study of 13 U.S. cities runs counter to Airbnb's story that it enables average people to make money off their home investments.

KATHERINE LUGAR: The bottom line is that is not home sharing. That's a business. And it should be subject to the same laws and regulations that even the smallest of beds and breakfast comply with.

NOGUCHI: Airbnb, however, says the study has fundamental flaws.

CHRIS LEHANE: If you actually look at the data that was in the report, it really is intellectually dishonest.

NOGUCHI: Chris Lehane, head of Airbnb's Global Public Policy, says when the study looks at San Francisco for instance, it includes data from outside the city where vacation properties make up a larger share of the market. Including those areas skews the numbers to suggest homeowners aren't listing their own residences.

LEHANE: The actual data in San Francisco is incredibly compelling. It shows that approximately 94 percent of the Airbnb listings in San Francisco are being done from one listing from the homes that people actually live in.

NOGUCHI: Commercial real estate firm CBRE, which did the study for the hotel industry, disputes this, saying it used proper data. This debate continues even though New York, Paris, Barcelona, Berlin and other cities have taken steps to crack down on illegal short-term rentals. Airbnb has changed its approach with regulators. And Lehane says now the company recognizes that it should be regulated and taxed.

He says the company is striking deals with cities all around the globe to address their specific concerns. Lehane says in 220 markets, Airbnb voluntarily collects lodging taxes. And in some cities, it restricts hosts to listing one property.

LEHANE: The solution can be different from city to city or market to market because they're ultimately looking to solve for different things. But we're willing to try to come up with what those solutions will be and, in fact, actually be able to create and provide policy tools.

NOGUCHI: Hart Posen studies competition at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and says these skirmishes underscore Airbnb's success.

HART POSEN: This is a marketing problem for them. This is a perception amongst regulators problem for them. But it's not a business problem.

NOGUCHI: Posen says it's, in fact, an opportunity for Airbnb, which will help its users navigate various tax codes and rules in a way that an upstart competitor could not.

POSEN: Who is best served to manage that regulatory regime for their vendors? And the answer is Airbnb.

NOGUCHI: That, he says, is what is known as a competitive advantage. Yuki Noguchi, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.