Airbnb is becoming a noun more than a brand name, but what does “Airbnb” mean to the average person, and is the definition they are creating helping or hurting the vacation rental industry?
Airbnb has done a spectacular job of creating brand and category awareness. Their marketing efforts have increased both the knowledge and popularity of using residential short term rentals for lodging, especially in cities, where overall use and awareness of vacation rentals has been relatively low.
The Google Trends chart below demonstrates the volume of the following search terms since January 2012:
Grass Roots Efforts
Airbnb has effectively mobilized local “hosts” to show up at city council meetings to fight rental restrictions The company hired spokesperson David Hantman in 2012, and Aibnb is currently in the news daily for their public stance in short term rental disputes.
Petitions have been created by Airbnb hosts in Portland, Seattle, New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Grand Rapids, Denver and many more cities around the world. These petitions are being generated using sites such as change. org and peers.org and are being passed around the Airbnb community using peer-to-peer social media. The Airbnb host community is active, engaged and connected, characteristics which prove beneficial when facing a city council or county commission.
“At the June 4 Portland City Council meeting, Airbnb had a brunch (before the meeting) for their Portland hosts where they coached them on their testimony and helped them write them,” said Betsy LaBarge, founder and president of Mt Hood Vacation Rentals. “We didn’t know that until we got to the Public Hearing and signed up -behind about 50+ Airbnb hosts. They also had a representative deliver testimony.”
However, while these efforts have been effective in allowing primary homeowners/renters to rent out a portion of their residence, the movement has created confusion about the vacation rental industry as a whole.
According to Vacasa’s Cliff Johnson in an Oregonian Op-ed before the last Portland city council meeting, “the city is only looking at legalizing a very narrow profile of rentals – the short-term rental of rooms within a primary residence. In our experience, this represents an extreme minority in the world of vacation rentals, as it covers less than 5 percent of all vacation rentals.”
Had it not been for campaigning by LaBarge and Johnson, along with HomeAway’s Matt Curtis and Oregon vacation rental managers, the Portland City Council was ready to rule that short term rentals in primary residences would be allowed, but rentals in non-primary residences would have remained illegal until the city council could determine appropriate regulation.
And it is not just in Portland. Airbnb also was successful in pushing similar initiatives in other areas. In February, Amsterdam passed an “Airbnb-friendly law” which permits residents to rent out their primary homes to up to 4 people at a time for up to 60 day a year. Earlier this year a bill was also passed in France legalizing short term rentals of primary residences.
Primary Residence Short Term Rental vs. Second Home Vacation Rental
The concern is that these initiatives are encouraging lawmakers to decide, as long as an owner is present in a primary residence, the rental should be legal. But if an owner is not present or it is a second home, the rental should be illegal.
These rulings are harmful to professional vacation rental management. The vacation rental industry has a long history of providing safe, clean lodging to visitors, having managers available 24/7, working with existing laws (not underground), paying lodging/tourist/TOT taxes, promoting the area as a destination, and increasing revenue for local businesses.
Airbnb Going Forward
Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky told Katie Couric in a recent interview, “The core problem comes back to the idea that these cities want to view everything as a person or a business. If you have people in your home, you’re a person. The second you charge one person, one weekend you’re a business, and therefore you should be regulated like these huge institutions. We actually think there should be a third category created, and what we are doing is -city by city around the world -we are starting to create model legislation.”
“It is a huge risk for the company it we can’t manage it, but I am incredibly confident we can,” said Chesky.
Airbnb has turned fighting municipal rental bans into a highly successful PR campaign. However, the traditional vacation rental industry should not assume that Airbnb is looking to protect their interests when facing rental restrictions. The “model legislation” they have been pushing through has not historically prioritized second home vacation rentals.
Fortunately, in Portland, LaBarge, Johnson, Curtis and others organized and showed up with solid, factual, data-driven information.
“The city council finally understands what traditional short term rentals – vacation rentals – are,” said LaBarge. “They also realize that they need to have a different permit license and regulation for them, and the mayor wants to fast track the process. He agreed that he wanted the input of the experts in the room which included Cliff Johnson from Vacasa, Matt Curtis and myself.”
By Amy Hinote