AirbnbWATCH Raises Questions on Price-Gouging Surrounding Marathon Monday

AirbnbWATCH, an affordable housing advocate and watchdog group known to be backed by the hotel industry, released a report last week that shows significant price gouging by Boston Airbnb hosts for rentals during Boston Marathon weekend.

But, after a closer look, the report that shows only ten listings with some over $2,000 per night are out of the norm compared to the average price of $514 per night in downtown Boston and closer to $300 per night in the Boston region per night according to a quick Airbnb search in late March to book for April 14 through April 17, 2018.

“Airbnb’s price gouging was a dream killer for many football fans during the Super Bowl and a buzz kill to party-goers during Mardi Gras. Airbnb is continuing that practice with folks looking to enjoy one of America’s truly great sporting events, the Boston Marathon,” stated Lauren Windsor, AirbnbWATCH’s spokesperson. “Permitting their ‘hosts’ – who oftentimes are real estate professionals — to raise rent by these astronomical rates is a very worrisome precedent that Airbnb is setting at these widely attended events.”

The report by AirbnbWATCH claims an apartment in downtown Boston, which is normally rented for $77 per night, was listed as $2,000 per night for the weekend before the April 16 marathon.

Windsor said that the study showcased a sampling of what they reviewed and although prices varied the commercial Airbnb hosts were among the worst price gougers.

“When Airbnb commercial hosts raise prices to this degree, it hurts Boston’s economy because their guests spend more disposable income on their accommodations instead of on Boston restaurants or small-business retail shops and there is no transparency or assurance that these Airbnb hosts are paying the correct amount of taxes,” wrote Windsor via email.

But Airbnb spokesperson Crystal Davis said that the median nightly price for the last three marathons ranged from $120 in 2015 to $130 in 2016 and 2017.

“If you go online and do a search, you’ll see right away that their are hundreds of listings below what AirbnbWATCH shows,” said Davis. “Nine times out of of 10 the accommodations listed by AirbnbWATCH cited will not be booked.”

Davis said when it comes to major events like this, Airbnb usually sees a large influx of listings, which creates competition on their platform bringing the price down.

Even for people who are booking last minute, Davis said, they can sort through and find something that accommodates their needs.

An Airbnb study showed that during the 2016 Marathon from April 16 through 19, the average hotel room price was $321 per night when the average Airbnb Room price was around $150, saving the Airbnb consumer about $170 per night.

AirbnbWATCH is a coalition campaign led by American Family Voices (AFV). The organization is a progressive non-profit founded in 2000 that works on economic issues impacting the working and middle classes.

The hotel industry helps to underwrite the AirbnbWATCH campaign, but, Windsor says, the AFV has never received funding from AHLA.

“We prominently display the hotel association as a member of our coalition,” wrote Windsor via email. “We’re not hiding anything, and shocker: AHLA helps to provide resources for the coalition’s work! Airbnb’s pointing that out is nothing more than a distraction from the very valid criticisms our coalition — that also includes labor, housing groups, community organizations, disability groups, civil rights groups, and others — and concerned communities across the country have lodged against the ‘home sharing’ platform for its unfair business practices and its escalation of the affordable housing crisis.”

Windsor stated that AirbnbWATCH would like to see the City Council ban commercial Airbnb operators, while preserving the right of true home sharers to rent out their primary residency.

In addition they would like to put a cap on short-term rentals to help incentivize owners to rent traditionally for permanent residents to support Boston’s housing inventory and affordable housing.

In April 2017, the New York Times released pages from a 2016 American Hotel and Lodging Association (AHLA) document that outlined plans to fend off Airbnb in the coming year.

It stated, “Working with out partners, AHLA also stood up AirbnbWATCH.org, an online portal dedicated to gathering stories of short-term rentals harms and highlighting Airbnb’s lack of transparency.”

In addition, the documents showed that AHLA formed relationships with hotel labor unions, along with politicians, affordable housing groups and neighborhood associations.

AirbnbWATCH posted similar reports of price-gouging in Minneapolis during the Super Bowl this past year and the Florida chapter popped into the scene as a purportedly “locally organized” group of concerned activists in 2017, bringing attention to illegal hotel operations in residential areas in the state.

Other AirbnbWATCH reports include price-gouging in San Antonio during the NCAA basketball tournament and in New Orleans during the 2018 Mardi Gras celebrations.

Davis said this is the first campaign of record that she’s seen from this group in Boston, but it works behind the scenes with other hotel-funded groups like ShareBetter on similar efforts across various markets.

A Wall Street Journal article outlined how ShareBetter was funded by the hotel industry and came under fire when a video was released purportedly showing a local woman describing how her neighborhood had been ruined by short-term rentals, but in reality she was an actress from New York.

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