State looks to cash in on booming, online home-sharing industry
SALEM — Airbnb, the online vacation home-sharing company, had more listings in Salem last Halloween, 105, than the 93 rooms available at the Hawthorne Hotel, which is typically booked solid during the holiday.
But unlike the Hawthorne Hotel, property owners who use websites like Airbnb, Flipkey by Trip Advisor, VRBO, and HomeAway to promote short-term rentals have collected a dime in hotel room taxes.
That could change if a provision in the state Senate's version of the budget passes.
At the same time, both local and state officials say they are just as concerned about regulating the nascent vacation home sharing industry as they are with taxing it.
"I'm worried about who's going to make sure that these people have carbon monoxide detectors and fire detectors," said Salem state Rep. Paul Tucker, the city's former police chief. "There has to be a regulation piece and somebody has to pay for that, and that is really where the fees and taxes should come in."
Home-sharing services offer an online platform that allows hosts to advertise an extra room in their house, cottage, apartment or condominium, or even an entire home for short-term rental. The site takes care of collecting the money from the guest.
Airbnb says it's a way for homeowners to make ends meet or save for retirement.
Salem, which sees a heavy influx of tourists during the Halloween season, has the larges number of active hosts — 96 — listed on the North Shore, according to Airbnb.
During Halloween weekend, 300 guests were accommodated by Airbnb hosts, twice the total during Halloween in 2015, according to the company.
The average nightly price of booked listings during Halloween weekend was $210. The typical Salem host made $800 during Halloween weekend, and they earn $9,100 a year, Airbnb says. Guest arrivals for Halloween were up 130 percent from last Halloween.
Support for expanding the room occupancy tax to home-sharing sites is gaining momentum on Beacon Hill.
"I think when you bring in a new industry, such as Airbnb ... I think that is fair game, relative to a discussion," House Speaker Robert DeLeo told the North Shore Chamber of Commerce last week.