New Study Adds to Airbnb Debate

A new American Hotel & Lodging Association-sponsored study offers new data on short-term rental website Airbnb for policymakers to ponder. But the numbers, disputed by Airbnb, do little to resolve questions about the nature of the company and the hosts who use it.

A growing share of Airbnb hosts in 12 major cities rent out their homes full-time or list two or more units on the site, according to a Pennsylvania State University analysis of Airbnb listings. The AH&LA says this is the latest evidence that short-term rental websites encourage illegal hoteliers.

“These are not individuals simply making some extra money,” Katherine Lugar, the head of the AH&LA, told reporters on a conference call Wednesday. Instead, she said, many hosts are running lodging operations without adhering to laws even the smallest bed-and-breakfasts must follow.

Lugar called on government officials to halt illegal activity and make sure that short-term rental companies follow the same rules as other lodging businesses.

City and state policymakers across the country are trying to figure out how to regulate short-term rentals, an increasingly popular lodging option even in areas where such rentals are technically illegal. In cities experiencing an affordable housing shortage, such as New York City, the debate has been particularly contentious.

Researchers from the Pennsylvania State University School of Hospitality Management used an AH&LA grant to purchase large amounts of data from Airdna, a company that advises Airbnb hosts based on listing data pulled from the Airbnb website. The researchers excluded listings that offered a shared room and unconventional units, such as treehouses, so they could draw comparisons between Airbnb and the hotel industry.

The study found that nearly 30 percent of the home rental website’s revenue from September 2014 to September 2015 came from hosts who made their unit available 360 days per year and nearly 40 percent of revenue came from hosts who rent out multiple units.  

Airbnb spokesman Nick Papas said in an email that the AH&LA-sponsored study was “intended to mislead and manipulate.”

“The overwhelming majority of Airbnb hosts are middle-class people who occasionally share only the home in which they live,” he said. The “available listing” metric the researchers used doesn’t offer meaningful insight, he said, because many hosts list their home as available although they only occasionally host guests.

It’s not the first time studies have shown that some Airbnb hosts are running large operations, however. In 2014, a New York state report that relied on subpoenaed Airbnb data found that 6 percent of hosts offered up to hundreds of listings on the site and drove 37 percent of host revenue. Papas said that 95 percent of New York City hosts share only one listing.

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