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Airbnb’s effect hard to gauge, study says, but it’s probably not hurting hotels

A woman used a computer to visit home rental website Airbnb.JAVIER SORIANO/AFP/Getty Images

Airbnb Inc. has quickly become a major player in the travel industry by letting people rent out their homes to travelers. But a study says the multibillion-dollar company hasn’t harmed the traditional hotel market in most cities, including Boston.

In a wide-ranging analysis of hotel and home-rental data, the market researcher STR Inc. said it couldn’t find clear effects on hotel industry performance attributed to Airbnb, which competes for some of the same consumers. That’s despite the fact that eight-year-old Airbnb is, in effect, the world’s second-largest hotel operator, with nearly as many hotel-style rooms as Marriott International, STR said.


For example, hotel demand in Boston held fairly steady last year, even as Airbnb’s share of weekday demand reached 1.6 percent, up from 0.5 percent in 2014.

“Hotel performance in the US has tracked along as we would expect . . . we’ve experienced an unprecedented period of growth for several years now,” said Patrick Mayock, one of the report’s authors. “The question is, would hotels have increased even more? Did Airbnb really affect it at all? And those are questions that the answers are very muddled on.”

The lack of a clear Airbnb effect in Boston could be tied to the city’s hotel shortage, which has driven up rates and prompted developers to propose hundreds of new rooms. STR found that Airbnb occupancy rates were highest in cities that also had high hotel occupancy, which could indicate that Airbnb is adding inventory to the market rather than stealing business from hotels.

The report, from an influential voice in the hotel industry, could factor into policy debates in Boston and beyond.

Governor Charlie Baker wants to levy hotel taxes on rentals by Airbnb and similar services, such as HomeAway, owned by Expedia, and FlipKey, owned by TripAdvisor. House lawmakers are also expected to introduce legislation this year to regulate and tax Airbnb listings. On Friday, state Senator Eric Lesser filed a bill that would tax Airbnb rentals and let cities license Airbnb hosts.


STR said its analysis was based on its own hotel data along with rental figures provided by Airbnb, which STR said did not pay for the study or influence its conclusions.

Hoteliers have argued that Airbnb is competing unfairly because it doesn’t collect hotel taxes or comply with the same safety and health regulations that hotels do. STR’s finding that Airbnb ranks among the top hotel operators reinforces that message, said Paul J. Sacco, chief executive of the Massachusetts Lodging Association.

“They should contribute their fair share of taxes and adhere to the same zoning, civil rights, health, and safety standards that other lodging businesses are required to abide by,” Sacco said.

Airbnb, meanwhile, has said it wants to collect state and local hotel taxes from its Massachusetts customers as a matter of fairness. But the company argues that any regulations should be imposed on high-volume landlords rather than on casual users who make a few dollars on the side.

“We’ve long said that for Airbnb to win, no one has to lose,” spokeswoman Crystal Davis said. “Airbnb is democratizing travel and helping more people travel to more places, and that’s good for everyone.”

One key measure of hotel-industry strength in STR’s report was the number of nights with occupancy higher than 95 percent. The seven US markets in the study, including Boston, had more than 70 nights of such high occupancy in each of the past three years, with a small downtick in 2016, possibly linked to the increasing supply of hotel rooms or larger economic trends, STR said.


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