April 12, 2016

Ithacans Open Doors to Airbnb, New York Visitors

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Using Airbnb — a world-renowned vacation rental service that enables guests to stay in local hosts’ homes — residents across Tompkins County and upstate New York are opening up their houses to strangers.

The company’s activity in the Southern Tier — a region of New York that includes Steuben, Schuyler, Chemung, Tompkins, Tioga, Broome, Chenango and Delaware Counties — has grown to approximately 650 hosts in 2015, according to an Airbnb report.

Ithaca resident Dan Taylor said he decided to rent out a bedroom in his South Hill house to earn extra money after a positive experience with Airbnb in Amsterdam.

Taylor, who has been a host for one year, said guests are largely split between people visiting Cornell and Ithaca College and tourists visiting the Finger Lakes.

Airbnb’s unique business model allows visitors to build relationships with their hosts, who regularly interact with guests and offer a local perspective, according to Taylor.

“There is a difference between staying with someone who can give you a personalized experience … and just visiting,” Taylor said. “Someone who lives every day in the town can give you a very positive experience.”

Taylor added that people who use Airbnb instead of hotels are putting money into the local economy and helping community members.

“Our property taxes are high and there are a lot of issues with housing in Ithaca, and this helps Ithacans stay in their homes,” he said.

Tompkins County’s 843,000 annual visitors produce a total lodging revenue of approximately $45 million a year, according to the Ithaca Tourism Board website. Airbnb’s report stated that its total host earnings for 2015 was $4 million, with each host earning approximately $5,300 annually.

A group of self-organized Tompkins County hosts, which has since disbanded, assisted with Airbnb’s efforts to pass legislation that would allow the company to collect occupancy tax on room rentals, Taylor said.

The legislation would allow hosts to remit their taxes to the government, according to Josh Meltzer, Head of Public Policy for Airbnb in New York.

“Airbnb is eager to work with leaders from around the state to collect and remit taxes on behalf of hosts, and to create sensible laws that would allow our community to legally share their primary homes for less than 30 days,” Meltzer said.

Taylor said these self-organized communities within the region are “essential to the relationship of trust built between guests, hosts and Airbnb.”

“It isn’t really one memorable moment of being a host, but rather a series of serendipitous meetings that have led us to make long-lasting friendships with visitors and people throughout Ithaca,” Taylor said.

Meltzer added that he hopes Ithaca residents will continue to work with Airbnb in the future.

“We are thrilled that there are so many hosts in the Southern Tier, as New Yorkers in all corners of the state are discovering that hosting is a great way to help make ends meet,” Meltzer said.