Fiscal flip flops: Big hotels and taxes

For years, lobbyists for the big hotels have raised concerns about Airbnb hosts and guests not paying the same taxes as hotels. In 2014, Airbnb began collecting and remitting taxes on behalf of our community in a number of cities, and we have since partnered with local governments to expand these efforts to more than 310 communities (including over 250 in the US), remitting more than $300 million to date. We’re in talks now with many more governments about how our community can pay our fair share. In 2017 alone, we have signed new agreements to collect and remit taxes in Arkansas, Colorado, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, Oklahoma, Puerto Rico, Texas, Wisconsin, and the U.S. Virgin Islands and counties in California, Florida, New York, and Pennsylvania.

But the big hotels have flip-flopped and are now aggressively fighting our efforts to collect more tax revenue.

Part one: Hotel tax concerns

As Airbnb grew, many in the hotel industry voiced their concerns about Airbnb hosts not paying the same taxes as hotels.

“We want them to pay the same occupancy taxes and sales taxes that guests in our hotels have to pay.”

Barry Strenlicht, Founder of Starwood Hotels, October 2015

Part two: Airbnb works to collect taxes

Our community wants to pay their fair share and we want to help. Typically, hotel and tourist taxes were designed for corporations with teams of lawyers and accountants, not regular people who share the home in which they live. To help simplify the process, in 2014, Airbnb began collecting and remitting hotel and tourist taxes in a number of cities where our hosts share their space. In less than three years, we have remitted more than $300 million in hotel and tourist taxes to over 310 communities around the world. Much of this tax revenue has been collected through the establishment of Voluntary Collection Agreements (VCAs). Because collecting and remitting taxes can be a challenge for the regular people who host through Airbnb, we developed a tool, the VCA, to ensure that proper taxes are collected and remitted while relieving hosts of onerous tax filings and governments of the burden of collection and enforcement. When a jurisdiction signs a VCA with Airbnb, we collect appropriate local taxes from guests as part of their booking transactions and remit the tax revenue directly to the proper tax administrator on behalf of hosts.

The new tax revenue has the potential to support a range of progressive policies and services and many communities already have worked to put these resources to good use. Examples include:

Some governments have considered using these resources to support tourism. In both France and Florida, tax dollars collected from Airbnb are supporting destination-marketing efforts and tourism infrastructure.

We want to expand this program to more communities. We also have supported legislation that would allow or require Airbnb to collect and remit hotel and tourist taxes. Last year, Airbnb’s Head of Global Policy Chris Lehane stood before the US Conference of Mayors and said: “Read my lips: we want to pay taxes.”

 

We also released a new report outlining the tremendous potential of this program. According to this new analysis, if we were able to collect and remit taxes on behalf of our community in even just the 50 largest cities in the US, more than $2.5 billion would be generated for local governments over the next 10 years.

Part three: The fiscal flip flop

As Airbnb collected more tax revenue for cities, the big hotels changed their tune and began to aggressively fight our efforts to collect taxes and even opposed legislation that would have allowed Airbnb to collect and remit these taxes. As revealed in leaked documents from the big hotel lobby:

“In some markets, the group said, Airbnb is dodging payment of local lodging taxes. In other places, it encouraged officials not to collect taxes from Airbnb hosts so as not to legitimize short-term rentals.” – The New York Times, April 16, 2017 

Here are recent examples of the big hotels flip flopping on our efforts to collect and remit taxes in the US:

FLORIDA

The big hotel lobby in Florida has accused the Airbnb community of “dodging taxes” and “exploiting tax loopholes” that provide the state valuable revenue Florida uses to market its tourism industry. But when Airbnb started signing tax agreements, the big hotels flipped the script, calling them insufficient, encouraging counties not to enter into the agreements and saying Airbnb listings need to conform to all hotel regulations and standards, even have a front desk. The big hotel lobby also propped up a fake grassroots group to trash Airbnb and criticize our tax agreements.

 

OREGON

As the popularity of Airbnb grew in Oregon, the state hotel lobby said “all we’re really looking for is equality in how these same types of businesses pay taxes,” and the group continues to urge local governments to collect taxes from Airbnb hosts before increasing the state lodging tax. But behind the scenes, the hotel lobby is encouraging cities like Corvallis not to broker a tax agreement with Airbnb, claiming there are “major problems” with the agreements.

 

 

CALIFORNIA

  • The California Hotel and Lodging Association (CH&LA), an AH&LA state partner, officially opposed a statewide bill that would have created a streamlined, optional process for cities to more easily collect taxes from Airbnb.
  • In Los Angeles, a lobbying group affiliated with the AH&LA and CH&LA opposed and then criticized the agreement to collect and remit taxes to the city. Despite their efforts, Los Angeles agreed to the deal and in the remaining half year Airbnb collected $13 million in tax revenue for the city.

 

ARIZONA

The AH&LA criticized and opposed a statewide bill that provided legal mechanisms for Airbnb to collect and remit taxes. Despite their efforts, the Arizona legislation passed, allowing Airbnb to begin collecting taxes this year.

 

 

 

 NEW YORK

After raising persistent concerns about the Airbnb community not paying taxes, the media reported that our effort to pay hotel taxes would be “[met] with stiff resistance from the hospitality industry.” The Hotel Association of New York City said if there was a proposal to allow our community to contribute $21 million to New York they would “oppose it, certainly.” The Airbnb host community could have contributed $90 million to the City and State of New York in one year.

 

Looking ahead

As hotels continue to oppose our efforts to collect more tax revenue for more communities, we will update this post with additional examples and information. We will also continue our aggressive work to collect and remit taxes in more communities.