Hotel industry targets upstart Airbnb in statehouse battles

Hotel industry targets upstart Airbnb in statehouse battles

July 15, 2015: This story has been corrected.

One Airbnb host allegedly tripled the price of his condo without warning, nearly ruining a family’s trip to Austin to see a Formula One race. Another, in Cleveland, is accused of badgering his guests with sexist commentary. Other hosts reportedly misled prospective Airbnb guests with false promises of wheelchair accessibility in their New York City apartments.     

These horror stories may be real, yet the organization that is highlighting them on its website is not what it seems. Neighbors for Overnight Oversight — the purported “coalition of concerned neighbors” that provides talking points & a tool for writing letters to the editor — is in fact a creation of the American Hotel & Lodging Association, a century-old trade group that represents giant hotel chains such as Hilton & Marriott.  

p>“When businesses face major threats that could potentially harm their whole industry, these kinds of ‘grassroots’ campaigns start to happen in a pretty serious way,” said Edward Walker, a University of California, Los Angeles sociology professor who studies corporate influence over the political process.

Related: Airbnb key findings

This public relations tactic is yet one symptom of the new rough-and-tumble politics afflicting the traditional hospitality industry, which has been threatened by the explosive growth of short-term rental sites such as Airbnb, HomeAway & Flipkey. Many of these short-term rentals are operating in an unregulated limbo of questionable legality. They often aren't required to pay occupancy taxes & surcharges or follow the safety & sanitary regulations that apply to hotels. The industry wants them to play by the same rules.

Now the dueling industries are jumping into the politics of cities & states: flooding elections with cash, lobbying and, at times, even manufacturing what looks like grassroots support.

At least 60 bills have been introduced in 23 states this year that would determine whether homeowners seeking to rent out spare rooms or unoccupied homes are hotels in disguise — and should be taxed & regulated as such. Dozens more are being contemplated at the city or county level.

Neighbors for Overnight Oversight is just one part of the hotel industry’s strategy to convince lawmakers that they should regulate Airbnb & its counterparts with the same tax, safety & zoning regulations required of traditional hotels & inns. The American Hotel & Lodging Association has affiliates registered to lobby legislatures in 42 states this year, & the hotel industry together contributed at least $11 million to 2014 state political races, according to a Center for Public Integrity review of state & Internal Revenue Service records.

Related: A state-by-state guide to short-term rental legislation

To be sure, leveling the regulatory playing field with Airbnb is just one of the hotel industry’s varied policy goals. Hotels regularly lobby federal & state governments on immigration reform, labor laws, tax incentives & even U.S.-Cuba travel restrictions.

There’s more to this story. Click here to read the rest at the Center for Public Integrity.

This story is part of Who’s Calling the Shots in State Politics?. The Center exposes the powerful special interests that drive elections & policy in the states. Click here to read more stories in this blog.

Copyright 2015 The Center for Public Integrity. This story was published by The Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit, nonpartisan investigative news organization in Washington, D.C.

Source: “Center for Public Integrity”

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