When it comes to Airbnb, I have issues. Maybe it’s because I own a “real” Bed and Breakfast, and I find most Airbnbs to be cheap copycats that skirt around the edges of what’s legal and ethical. An Airbnb is not a business, it’s an under-regulated, over-hyped, step above couch surfing. But I digress.
When I opened the Inn at Glencairn, it was after a long, arduous year of renovations, planning board meetings, township approvals, and numerous fire and health inspections. Had I opened an Airbnb, I could have skipped the time and money that went into the renovations, meetings and approvals and simply cobbled together a page on the Airbnb site and opened up for business. It definitely would have been the easier route. And cheaper. And less risky. And probably more profitable.
Until quite recently, Airbnb sales were “under the table” and exempt from paying state and local occupancy and sales taxes. A “real” Bed and Breakfast is a full-fledged lodging business and is required to pay occupancy and sales taxes, like a hotel. In our municipality, that equates to 16.625%, which is quite a chunk of cash and figures prominently into our pricing model.
Did you know that an Airbnb might be illegal in the city or town you are visiting? Roughly 70% of the Airbnb reservations taken in NYC were illegal in 2014. The influx of Airbnb accommodations in some cities are driving up the prices of affordable housing for residents. Sure Airbnb is a lower cost alternative to other lodging options, but maybe the lower price is a result of an illegal sublet or an owner skirting the law when it comes to paying taxes.
Each year, the Inn at Glencairn is inspected by our local fire inspector. The inspector spends about two hours going from room to room and making sure our smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are up to date. The inspection can be unnerving because we take our responsibilities very seriously. Our smoke and carbon detectors are hard-wired to a central station that is notified immediately and automatically dispatches the local Fire Department if an alarm is triggered.
Does your Airbnb have working smoke or carbon monoxide detectors? If it does, are they the most up-to-date and recently inspected? If an alarm is triggered, who responds? Is it up to the occupants to determine what to do in case of an emergency? Our fire inspector also requires us to have fire extinguishers on every level and tag our rooms with directions to evacuate in the event of an emergency. Does your Airbnb have emergency evacuation instructions or fire extinguishers? Maybe not.
Also once a year, the Health Inspector comes in and inspects our kitchen to make sure our appliances are in working order. She makes sure that our dishwasher reaches the proper temperature to disinfect our plates and cutlery and that our refrigerator maintains the proper temperature to keep our food fresh and free from bacteria. Also, she inspects for pests to make sure we are maintaining a clean and sanitary environment. Does your Airbnb provide documentation that it is inspected and is pest free? Maybe not.
It is much easier to “game” a review on Airbnb than it is on TripAdvisor, Yelp, Google, Expedia and Booking.com. In fact, misrepresentation runs rampant on Airbnb. Reviews for a “real” Bed and Breakfast are vetted by the aforementioned sites and guests must provide proof that they stayed at the lodging establishment for a review to be considered valid.
Running a “real” Bed and Breakfast means you have a staff on hand to assist with any issue that may arise during your stay. At an Airbnb you are literally on your own unless the owner lives nearby and is responsive to your requests. Have an issue with the thermostat, good luck! Unless the owner is a quick call away, you may be sitting in the extreme heat or cold waiting for assistance. What about the lack of amenities in an Airbnb? Maybe it has enough towels, maybe it has enough toilet paper, maybe it has shampoo, maybe it has a hair dryer. Then again, maybe it doesn’t have any of these things, and maybe you have to spend your hard earned vacation time purchasing them.
So, next time you consider an Airbnb over a “real” Bed and Breakfast or even a hotel, consider the time, energy and expense that goes into providing an authentic local lodging experience. Consider the inspections, the taxes, and the staffing. Then make an informed decision on how you want to spend your vacation dollars.