The heated battle between Airbnb, the popular room-sharing app, and the hotel industry is playing out in city halls across the country — and at this week’s mayors' conference in Washington, D.C.
WASHINGTON — Chris Lehane, Airbnb’s head of global policy, appeared Thursday before hundreds of U.S. mayors with an enticing pitch: Team up with us to collect millions of dollars in taxes for you.
On Wednesday, the head of the hotel industry’s lobbying group spoke to the same audience with a very different message: Airbnb isn’t a good partner; it is breaking your city laws.
The heated battle between Airbnb, the popular room-sharing app, and the hotel industry is playing out in city halls across the country, including in New York and Los Angeles, which either passed or are considering restrictions on the service.
Airbnb has fought back with a political ground campaign led by former White House advisers like Lehane, deploying them to small towns and organizing the company’s dedicated hosts and guests to protest restrictions.
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This week, those differences are being aired at the U.S. Conference of Mayors, an event attended by local politicians with heavy influence over the future of the fast-changing lodging industry.
The appeals are taking many forms. Airbnb and the American Hotel & Lodging Association are both leading sponsors of the winter meeting, for example. But the sharpest debate is over numbers and facts.
In the speech Thursday, Lehane asked mayors to team up with the company. In turn, Airbnb would begin to collect taxes. It now collects hotel, tourist and occupancy taxes, totaling around $42 million, in 16 cities and jurisdictions. And, according to a study commissioned by the company that Lehane presented, if the 50 biggest U.S. cities teamed up with Airbnb, that number would rise to $200 million a year in taxes.
The company said Thursday that in Seattle during the year ended July 2015, it had 2,900 hosts who were paid $30 million by 151,000 guests. Its research shows the typical Airbnb visitor spent $945 per trip.
Last fall the company said that in Washington state, starting Oct. 15, it would collect and pay state and local retail sales tax, as well as all lodging taxes.
“We want to demonstrate a seriousness of purpose” to city leaders, Lehane said in an interview. “I’m not aware of any company standing up at the U.S. Conference of Mayors and saying, ‘Please tax us.’ ”
Katherine Lugar, president of the hotel association, on Wednesday presented a study her own group had commissioned. It said that an estimated $500 million in revenue was collected by Airbnb hosts, who the hotel group described as essentially professional landlords renting out rooms full-time, a violation of many local laws.
“Our data is showing a tremendous growth of commercial operators who are exploiting sites like Airbnb to avoid paying taxes, following zoning rules and following basic laws for health and safety,” Lugar said in an interview.