The "Sharing" Economy: Issues Facing Platforms, Participants, and Regulators A Federal Trade Commission Workshop
My wife and I are semi-retired here in Maine. Last fall, we put a small cottage we had just built on AirBnB to see if anyone was interested. We were booked every weekend throughout the fall and even through the winter in weather down to 20 degrees below. We are totally compliant with local regulations regarding safety and we pay our use tax as a lodging provider every quarter. Our clientele are mostly young couples and students from Boston, New York, and Washington DC who are looking for a getaway experience that is both secluded and private yet within close proximity to the shopping of Freeport and the great food of Portland. Occasionally we get retired couples traveling. The common denominator is that most of these folks could afford to stay in a hotel in Freeport (we have plenty) or one of the fine inns we have in the area. However, they all want a secluded and private Maine getaway experience for a reasonable price and our little cottage hits the spot. AirBnB has been easy for us, as hosts, to use and they are just a great company to deal with. Their fees are reasonable for what they provide and the fact that they handle the payment and do direct deposit to our bank account once the guest arrives makes it very easy for all of us. I think that one of the best parts of AirBnB is the fact that we rate our guests and our guests rate us; the experiences are totally transparent and online for review. This tends to drive both parties to best behavior; we strive to provide just wonderful and friendly service and our guests go out of their way to leave the cottage picked up, cleaned up, and just as they found it. Their mothers would be proud! The bottom line is that we are able to generate enough income out of the cottage in a year to both pay the real estate taxes on the cottage plus contribute a significant portion to our taxes on our primary house next door. The way I look at it, AirBnb is allowing us to generate revenue by providing a unique experience from those from "away" and that money essentially all goes to the State of Maine or the Town of Freeport in either sales taxes or real estate taxes, freeing up our own purchasing power to buy food and other local goods. That seems good for both us and the local economy. We have also used AirBnb ourselves when traveling to visit our son and grandkids in Tiburon CA and find that the experience is just as positive the other way. AirBnb and other sharing services have given economic opportunity to those we did not have it before and I believe has been a net positive generator to our local economy, because most of the guests to our cottage probably would not have come to Maine if they did not have the availability of the kind of experience we provide. This is a positive development in business; government should stay out of the way, help it grow, and reap the benefits.