Tourist Officials Say Airbnb Having An Impact

CCB MEDIA PHOTO William Zammer, owner of the Coonamessett Inn in Falmouth, says local innkeepers need to learn how to compete with Airbnb.

William Zammer, owner of the Coonamessett Inn in Falmouth, says local innkeepers need to learn how to compete with Airbnb.

BARNSTABLE – It has been a successful summer for innkeepers and hotels owners on Cape Cod, but the rising popularity of third party websites like Airbnb is getting their attention.

Founded in August 2008 and based in San Francisco, Airbnb is a marketplace for people to list and book homes, rooms or villas at any price point. It is available online or from a mobile phone app.

Over 40 million guests have used Airbnb since its inception, which includes around 25 million in the past year alone.

Residents in more than 34,000 cities and 190 countries use the online service to rent out lodging.

This summer, Airbnb had over 1.5 million listings.

Cape-based innkeeping consultant Carol Edmondson said that Airbnb is changing the travel and tourism industry.

“Airbnb is taking business away from everyone because they’re so good at what they do and because they understand the traveler,” said Edmondson. “They’re focused on the traveler, not on the host in terms of who they’re trying to satisfy. We’re now seeing inns who are listing their properties on Airbnb because the alternative for these small properties is much more expensive.”

Tommy Dott, owner of the Lamb and Lion Inn in Barnstable Village, has listed rooms on Airbnb.

“You sort of get pushed into joining them because their exposure is so huge that if you’re not part of it, you’re going to miss the boat completely,” said Dott.

Dott added that he later took the rooms off the site because he determined that he is not going after those customers.

“We want to be a destination for people. We want them to look at our website, see our perks, see our self-guided driving tours and our pool and all our wonderful things that we offer and make us part of their vacation, not just a place to go to bed at night because it’s cheap,” said Dott.

Edmondson believes lodging businesses have to join websites like Airbnb to survive.

“The right business decision is to be right where travelers are, and Airbnb is where travelers are,” said Edmondson.

On the Cape, tourism officials say Airbnb is also having an effect on local inns and hotels because those who list their homes on the website are not subject to room occupancy taxes and health and safety laws.

“So far it’s good for business. At some point I think there’s going to be kind of this decision of why is some of it taxed and why is some of it not taxed and that’s where the conversation is going to land sooner rather than later,” said Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce CEO Wendy Northcross.

There have been efforts to tax independently rented seasonal lodging in several towns on the Cape even before Airbnb came on the scene.

Northcross said, “It bears looking at, just in terms of that level playing field. One could say maybe we need to expand the definition of what’s taxed. Some could say just get rid of the tax altogether because it’s unfair. There’s a lot of things to look at in this case.”

William Zammer, who owns the Coonamessett Inn in Falmouth, said there should be a level playing field with websites like Airbnb when it comes to taxes.

“We’re paying 11 percent in taxes here in Falmouth on a room, and then if someone rents a condo or a timeshare and pays zero. That’s considerable—$30 to $40 less expensive room for that individual—than what we have,” Zammer said.

San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York are some of the cities across the country that are moving forward with plans to have Airbnb hosts pay taxes and be subject to health and safety inspections.

Edmondson said she does not see the day where Airbnb will be responsible for taxes.

“I don’t think we’ll ever see Airbnb become responsible for that, but I do think that, certainly on the Cape, that there are properties who are paying taxes who have gone directly and reported Airbnb properties that they feel are not paying their taxes appropriately,” said Edmondson.

Zammer said that Airbnb brings more competition to the industry.

“Anything that brings folks to Cape Cod in my mind works, and I think hoteliers and innkeepers have to become competitive enough to say ‘we know how to deal with it’ by adding extra amenities like continental breakfast, or whatever it happens to be, that makes a difference for folks,” he said.

“It also helps all the people here make a living,” Zammer said.

When contacted by the Newscenter, Airbnb representatives declined to comment, responding only with a number of facts about the company and the website.


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