Business & Tech

Semi-pro owners mean big money for Airbnb, hotels say

The hotel industry says upstart home-rental service Airbnb relies on a small group of semi-professional landlords for about half of its revenue in the Boston area.

Dado Ruvic/Illustration/Reuters

The hotel industry says upstart home-rental service Airbnb relies on a small group of semi-professional landlords for about half of its revenue in the Boston area.

The hotel industry, pushing to have Massachusetts regulate Airbnb Inc., claimed Thursday that the upstart home-rental service relies on a small group of semi-professional landlords for about half its revenue in the Boston area.

The research was sponsored by the American Hotel & Lodging Association and used data culled from Airbnb listings through last fall. The lodging industry said its findings puncture Airbnb’s assertion that a typical host makes a few bucks on the side by occasionally renting a spare bedroom.

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“If you act like a lodging establishment, then you should function like a lodging establishment,” said Paul J. Sacco, chief executive of the Massachusetts Lodging Association. “We’re not out to obliterate short-term rentals. We just want them regulated and taxed.”

Airbnb disputed the report, saying the data was inaccurate and clearly part of a political campaign. Spokesman Christopher Nulty said 86 percent of Airbnb hosts in Boston are listing their primary residence, and “the typical host” rents out about 45 nights a year, making about $5,900.

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“This factually inaccurate study, which was paid for by the hotel industry, is just another example of the industry’s attempt to mislead and manipulate to stifle competition,” he said.

The spat is part of a lobbying battle playing out on Beacon Hill and in other state capitals as hoteliers complain that online home rentals are increasingly stealing customers without facing the same regulations as traditional lodging.

Airbnb, founded in 2008, claims more than 2 million rentals listed in some 34,000 cities around the world. The company’s growth has outpaced local laws, with many cities and towns debating whether to regulate and tax rooms in private residences the same as hotels or inns.

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Boston city ordinances, for example, require all private rental properties to be registered and inspected at least once every five years. But the city’s Inspectional Services Department has temporarily decided not to cite homeowners who list their properties on Airbnb while officials weigh possible regulations.

The most sweeping regulations are being considered by the state Legislature. One bill would extend state and city hotel taxes to “transient accommodations” such as those typically listed on Airbnb, VRBO.com, and other online home-rental services.

Thursday’s report on Airbnb rental trends in the Boston area is a local version of a study the American Hotel & Lodging Association has been releasing in select US cities. It examined Airbnb public listings in 14 metro areas between October 2014 and September 2015.

In Boston, the hotel group estimated that 52 percent of Airbnb’s revenue, or nearly $25 million, came from just 430 property owners who listed rentals for six months or more—about 16 percent of Airbnb’s estimated property owner base.

The Boston figures were less striking than in some other cities studied by the hotel industry. About three-quarters of Airbnb revenue in the Miami area, and 69 percent in Los Angeles, came from units that were listed for rent at least half the year, the study said.

Airbnb has said it supports legislation taxing its rentals, but it opposed a bill that would have spelled out statewide standards for hosts. Airbnb argued that those rules—such as requiring licenses for people renting their properties—should instead be decided on a city-by-city basis.

Hotel owners have pushed for tighter state regulations, saying they would reflect the reality that some property owners are turning short-term residential rentals into a serious business.

“Airbnb in particular pitches this as just Mary and Joe trying to make ends meet,” Sacco said. “No. This is a business.”

Curt Woodward can be reached at curt.woodward@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @curtwoodward.
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