Save the Tourists (and Airbnb)
Tourists: No other form of life on the New York sidewalks and subways is more simultaneously loved and despised. We love that they are here spending their money and enjoying the wonderment of our city while we hate how they slow us down with their clueless wanderings and slow gait unfamiliar with the pace of city life.
New York needs tourists. Tourism is a central part of the city’s economy and messing with the flow of tourists to New York is effectively kicking the Big Apple squarely in its big balls.
So the New York State Attorney General’s office threatens to throw cold water on this essential industry with its subpoena of Airbnb’s New York State records.
Airbnb is a web site that connects visitors with private hosts who rent out private rooms or apartments, usually for significantly less than hotels cost. The N.Y. Attorney General’s office claims that the platform is being abused by people operating illegal hotels and avoiding hotel taxes.
I did a quick search for hotel room rates in New York City for the first week of March 2014. Prices are higher around the holidays in November and December and the second week of March might see abnormally high rates for people coming for the St. Patrick’s Day Parade. This study was unscientific, and there are web sites like Priceline.com and others that can help you find discounts.
Starting with a non-luxury, well-known hotel chain, the Marriot Marquis in Times Square charges an average of more than $360 per night for one room for two adults with no children. That jumps to more than $430 per night if you want such luxuries as a sofa bed in your room. A Marriott on East 40th Street got a rate of $206 per room.
Going to the cheaper hotels, Days Inn offered a rate of $131 per night on 94th Street. The chain charges $95 per night to stay at their hotel at JFK Airport. Nothing at JFK Airport is worth $95 a night unless it comes with a free strippers and cocaine.
A similar search on Airbnb gets you $175 a night for a room near Times Square in Manhattan and as low as $57 per night near JFK. The offerings were scattered and not as numerous to put too much of a dent in the hotel business, judging by the search I did on the web site.
No doubt there are people using Airbnb who are running illegal hotels outside of the legitimate regulation of the law, but there is a way to differentiate between these groups and the people making a few extra bucks renting a room to budget-conscious tourists. And about 90% of the Airbnb hosts are people renting out rooms in the homes they live in.
For whatever its faults, Airbnb is American capitalism and New York ingenuity at its best. Even with the abuses as they are the city and state gain more than they lose by enabling more tourism. The money tourists don’t spend on hotels they spend on Broadways shows, Yankee games, hot dogs and hookers. Let them.