Airbnb can be an awesome service for frugal travellers, and it feels especially great to use when the only other option is staying at an overpriced boutique hotel in the same city. But the incumbent US hotel lobby is hoping to highlight some of the weaknesses of the "short-term rental" service, including how it negatively impacts communities and allows unregulated businesses to thrive.
A document recently obtained by The New York Times reveals the hotel lobby's plan to thwart Airbnb's business by pushing for bills to regulate the company at every level of government. Although we've known for years that hotel lobbyists have been fighting to impose regulations on Airbnb, the new document shows just how well-organised the upstart's opponents are.
According to documents from the American Hotel and Lodging Association — a trade group that includes America's biggest hotel chains, including Marriott, Hilton, Hyatt, the Four Seasons and Starwood Hotels — the organisation is planning a multi-pronged attack at local, state and federal levels to prevent Airbnb from spreading to new cities across the US.
Part of the strategy includes "aggressively countering" Airbnb's claim that it's just helping the middle class make ends meet "with a wave of personal testimonials of consumer harm". The document essentially serves as opposition research and gives its members talking points about Airbnb's alleged racism and taxation issues. According to the document, the association will focus its efforts on Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston, Washington and Miami, where Airbnb has yet to establish a strong footing.
Gizmodo reached out to Airbnb and AHLA for comment but had not heard back at time of writing.
AHLA's powerful anti-Airbnb agenda isn't all that surprising when you look at the precedent that's been set in some of America's most popular travel destinations. Airbnb has already fought contentious legal battles with regulators in cities like New York City and Washington, DC. In October, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a bill into law that prevents New Yorkers from renting out their vacant apartments for 30 days or less following concerns that Airbnb was driving up the price of rentals. The association claims this and other recent regulations affecting Airbnb as victories.
The issue is that in both New York and Washington, Airbnb has led to a strange underground market where landlords can take rent-controlled buildings and turn them into unregulated money-making machines. Lawmakers and hotel lobbyists believe that housing-constrained cities like New York suffer greatly from landlords who are running the equivalent of illegal hotels.
All of this comes just as Airbnb is preparing to IPO. Airbnb Brian Chesky CEO has publicly stated the company will be ready to go public in about a year, and investors estimate the company's value to be about $US30 billion ($39.5 billion). By comparison, that is $US10 billion ($13 billion) greater than Hilton Hotels' current value and only $US5 billion ($6.6 billion) short of Marriot's market capitalisation. Airbnb could actually have a bright future as a publicly traded company — but first it has to run this next gauntlet of legal battles.
The relevant portion of the AHLA's Board Book is embedded below. The full book can be read here.