Albuquerque hoteliers say Airbnb hosts should pay lodgers taxes

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Copyright © 2016 Albuquerque Journal

Albuquerque hoteliers say it’s time for Airbnb hosts to pay the same lodgers taxes they do, saying that the vacation rental platform has grown too big to ignore.

The Greater Albuquerque Innkeepers Association plans to push for a new city ordinance under which Airbnb would collect and pay lodgers tax on the transaction between a host and a guest, following the recent lead of Santa Fe and Taos, said Charlie Gray, executive director of the industry group. He said what Santa Fe has done puts Airbnb “on a more level playing field with hotel rentals” and is good for all parties.

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“The growth of Airbnb has been truly exponential and remarkable,” Gray said in a written statement to the Journal, citing a 2015 Wall Street Journal report that said the company had $2.2 billion in bookings in the third quarter of that year. “This is not something to ignore.”

Airbnb is an online marketplace in which people can rent out rooms, apartments or homes to others, usually vacationers.

Airbnb has not responded to a Journal inquiry asking how many active hosts it has in Albuquerque, but a Monday search of the site for a two-person stay the weekend of Aug. 19-21 turned up 306 listings.

Airbnb has said that there are about 1,500 hosts statewide, with Santa Fe and Taos having the most units. More than 57,000 people used Airbnb in New Mexico in 2015, according to the company.

Albuquerque’s innkeepers group decided to take a formal stand on the issue at its board meeting last week, but it has not yet initiated conversations with the city’s administration or elected officials, Gray said.

A spokeswoman for Mayor Richard Berry said the city is open to the conversation.

“We think it’s a fair and important discussion to have. We want to make Albuquerque pro-business for everyone while making sure we minimize any undue advantages for any one company,” Rhiannon Samuel said in an emailed statement. “No decisions have been made yet, but we are looking at the situation.”

City ordinance requires hotels and similar establishments such as bed-and-breakfasts to pay a 5 percent lodgers tax on the rental rate charged to guests. A separate ordinance requires hotels to pay a 1 percent hospitality fee. Gray said the innkeepers board addressed only the lodgers tax in its own discussions but likely would want the hospitality fee applied to Airbnb rentals, too.

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Albuquerque has not studied how much the city could make by collecting lodgers taxes on Airbnb rentals, Samuel said. It’s also unclear what impact Airbnb has had on local hotel business, Gray said.

Albuquerque collected $11.4 million in lodgers taxes in fiscal year 2015. The ordinance requires that at least half of the proceeds go to “advertising, publicizing and promoting tourist-related attractions, facilities and events.” As such, Gray contends that charging lodgers tax on Airbnb stays would benefit the hosts by increasing the city’s profile among possible visitors.

“It’s (about) fairness and it’s also a win-win for everybody because it puts more money in the advertising pot,” he said.

Visit Albuquerque, the not-for-profit organization contracted by the city to market Albuquerque as a meetings and tourist destination, gets most of its budget from the lodgers tax. Visit Albuquerque is the new name for the Albuquerque Convention and Visitors Bureau.

President and CEO Tania Armenta said she has been following Airbnb’s progress dealing with the tax issue in communities across the country.

Often, she said, Airbnb’s participation in the lodgers tax system comes with a new relationship with the local marketing organization, like Visit Albuquerque.

“I’m pleased to see Albuquerque have the discussion and take a look at the situation,” Armenta said.

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