I've been thinking a lot about social sharing services. With lyft and uber and airbnb constantly in the news about their disruptive services, it brought a lot to my attention about my experience with airbnb.
I love airbnb. I’ve been hosting two guest bedrooms in my home for almost two years now. I’ve had hundreds of guests and all of the experiences have been lovely. I’ve met people from all over the world. And through my experience I’ve learned a lot about my city as well as about the people who come to visit.
Nashville is an extremely popular destination on airbnb. Most of my guests are visiting because they’re doing a music tour of the South. They stop in Nashville, New Orleans, and Memphis. Everyone that visits is a big music fan. And more often than not, people choose to stay with me because they want to have an authentic Nashville experience while in town. They want to stay in a home. They want to explore a particular neighborhood. They want advice from a local on where to go for coffee, dinner, and entertainment. I’ve had countless conversations about new places to check out, fun tourist things to do, and exciting things happening in Nashville. And as a result I’ve grown more and more fond of my city. I often tell friends and family that I love Nashville more than ever and part of that has to do with the fact that I stump speech for the city every time I welcome a new airbnb guest. Every other day I get to talk about the great restaurants, coffee shops, music venues, entrepreneurs, shopping experiences, and new developments happening in my neighborhood and in my city. I’m the biggest ambassador for the city that I know.
Lately I’ve been reflecting on how important my role for airbnb is for the city. I’m an ambassador. I’m a glowing billboard. I’m the first person new visitors meet and talk to when they come to Music City. I’m the first person they shake hands with. The first person who tells them about the town. Only recently have guests started getting this same attention from other people - primarily from Lyft or Uber drivers as more and more people are getting picked up at the airport from the car sharing services. And as such I’ve realized just how important I am for the health and well being of my city. I truly believe that my role as an airbnb host has a huge effect on how someone’s visit to Nashville goes. I genuinely want to take care of my guests. I want them to love the city as much as I do.
The only promoting I do is for Nashville itself. I don’t have a particular brand. There is no neon sign hanging above my front door. I’m always open. And I’m always available for my guests. And to be completely honest, I only host my house on airbnb for the help it provides in covering my bills. I’m not generating profits. I’m trying to make ends meet. And fortunately for me, I’ve found a fun and amazing way to do that. All thanks to airbnb.
Last week I received an email discussing a proposed bill here in Nashville that would start taxing hosts on airbnb and VRBO. Hosts would also have to register with the city, apply for a permit, and pay $50 annually in order to offer rooms in their homes. And beyond that, the bill wants to charge hosts room, occupancy, and sales taxes on all money earned via airbnb or similar services.
As I pondered the bill I thought of who would be pushing a bill like this. And of course I imagined that hotels and traditional bed and breakfasts would be the first people to speak up against services like airbnb. Their thinking is often that their businesses are being negatively impacted by these new services. That people aren’t staying in their hotels because they’re staying in airbnb rentals. And as such we airbnb providers should be taxed and permitted in the same way they are.
It also made me think of the music industry. As digital technology proliferated the more traditional music businesses suffered as people stopped buying physical copies of music and gravitated towards digital offerings. A lot of music companies suffered dramatically as they struggled to figure out how to survive in the new era of digital technology. And rather than embracing technology they spent years and fortunes trying to stop the spread of digital advancements.
And now it looks like similar things are happening with airbnb. It is the new norm. And you can either embrace what technology has offered, or spend a fortune trying to fight it. And if the music industry is any example, you will probably best be served if you simply embrace technology.
All of this to say, I certainly don’t feel positive feelings when it comes to permits, approvals, and taxes on my airbnb offerings. Big hotels or traditional bed and breakfasts are concerned with their businesses. Generating revenues and making profits. Pushing and maintaing their brand name and image. The only person in a hotel who stump speeches for the city is the concierge. And often the concierge desk looks like an after thought in the hotel lobby. A small desk in a corner with a person sending you to places the hotel has deals with. This is not the best way to advertise the city.
The best way to advertise the city is through airbnb hosts such as myself. I have no brand. No image to maintain. I simply love my city and want my guests to have a wonderful experience while they are here. Yes, I want them to be comfortable in my home. But more importantly, I want them to enjoy Nashville. I’m not operating a business with the sole purpose of generating profits. I’m an American homeowner trying to cover my expenses during a period of tremendous economic uncertainty. To me, it seems like I should be incentivized by the city, rather than taxed. I should be receiving funds from the board of tourism for Nashville. After all, I’m doing just as much work to promote the city. The city of Nashville should be embracing services like airbnb. The city should realize just how important I am to it’s overall brand and image. I am Music City. It just doesn’t feel fair, or right, to tax and fee me.