December 16, 2017
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Maine’s Airbnb listings are up with help from actual bed-and-breakfasts

By Darren Fishell, BDN Staff
Updated:

PORTLAND, Maine — People renting entire homes or rooms through the website Airbnb are getting a host of new and sometimes grudging competitors — actual bed-and-breakfasts.

That’s happening in Maine, too, as tourism season gets into full swing.

At the end of April, Maine had at least 472 more Airbnb listings than one year earlier, a 35 percent jump for the year, according to the consultancy Airdna, which tracks Airbnb trends.

Some of those new listings on the site are from licensed hotels, as the upstart booking platform continues to divide and change the lodging industry in ways that could be interpreted as great, ruinous and everything in between.

“It’s got all of the elements for a great political argument,” said Greg Dugal, the head of the Maine Innkeepers Association, who said most of the listings added from licensed hoteliers have come in recent years.

The San Francisco-based “sharing economy” startup has prompted debates about affordable housing, regulatory fairness, free enterprise, consumer safety and other issues that have spurred legislation in the country’s major metro areas.

It’s offerings also are changing the economics, not only around lodging but around homeownership, and not in uniform ways. In New York City, data Airbnb released showed that about 3,500 listings belonged to homeowners with three or more entire homes listed, which resembles more of a business than people renting individual rooms.

Partly in response to Airbnb’s growth, Rockland in November approved new regulations on short-term rentals, and neighborhood association representatives in Portland have asked city officials to approve similar rules, the Portland Press Herald reported.

On another side of the homeownership issue, there are new entrants to the Airbnb market, such as Ryan Blotnick and his fiancee, Keri Kimura, who recently bought a house in Southwest Harbor that they started listing in April. The couple plans to rent it out this summer to help make initial payments on the property while they stay in a rental nearby.

“I really wanted to buy a house either way, but we might have decided that we actually couldn’t afford this house if it wasn’t for the Airbnb,” Blotnick said.

And that’s a lesson that Blotnick, a professional guitarist and bartender at Red Sky in downtown Southwest Harbor, said he learned before Airbnb.

During a stint living in Brooklyn, Blotnick, an Alfred native, rented a Williamsburg apartment out on Craigslist while he was playing out of town.

“If I had lived somewhere less safe, for 20 percent cheaper, then it would have been a lot harder to rent out the apartment and it would have been more, in a way,” Blotnick said.

On MDI, he said, the same principle applies.

“To be able to have guaranteed income because of the location made it sort of a no-brainer to buy on the island,” Blotnick said.

Blotnick said in a phone interview from Brooklyn that he and Kimura have refurbished the house to try and reach exactly that clientele, too, which he thinks will be a new niche and avoid a lodging trope of what one reviewer called “death by maritime decor.”

“Having more of an urban aesthetic on the back side of the island might bring a different crowd and might bring more Brooklyn people and Cambridge people,” Blotnick said. “They might end up staying on the back side of the island rather than Bar Harbor.”

Any tensions between short-term rentals and licensed hoteliers existed before Airbnb, Dugal said. It’s been Airbnb’s strong financial backing, reach and marketing that has made it the biggest force in short-term rentals.

“They’re the big dogs — there’s no question,” Dugal said.

That demand and competition among traditional hotels is behind Expedia’s $3.9 billion offer to buy Airbnb competitor HomeAway.

Similarly, individual hoteliers are increasingly turning to the site and mobile app platform to list their own rooms but with some conflicted feelings. Scott Cowger at Maple Hill Farms in Hallowell was one of the earlier adopters, listing rooms at his inn on Airbnb about three years ago.

“I’ve been a huge advocate for hotel owners to get our rooms on there because Airbnb is not going away,” Cowger said.

Other hoteliers apparently have come to the same conclusion.

In the past year, Rockwood, near Moosehead lake, has been the fastest-growing Airbnb market. Airdna shows rentals at Gray Ghost Camps are estimated as the top-grossing and top-reviewed.

As Airbnb only opens a brief window for reviews between customers and hosts, the count of customer reviews provides a reliable gauge of overnight stays.

In tourist haven Bar Harbor, Airdna estimates that the Acadia Hotel is among the top bookings in the past year, with at least 88 reviews from guests.

It’s not just a matter of principle, either. Airbnb charges less in commissions than other travel booking sites, which Cowger said he sees as an advantage, though he’s hopeful short-term rentals eventually will get their own place in state regulations, such as requiring the collection of lodging taxes at the time of booking.

Maine lawmakers have twice declined to enact new regulations around short-term rentals in past sessions, though no such bills were before lawmakers in the most recent session.

While the site has caught on among innkeepers, Cowger said not every owner feels that way.

“There are other people out there who don’t want anything to do with Airbnb, and that’s their choice,” Cowger said. “I can’t figure that out. It’s available to us — and why not? But I respect everyone’s business decision as well.”

 


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