Airbnb, TripAdvisor, HomeAway ally with OTA trade group Travel Tech

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Short-term rental specialists Airbnb and HomeAway as well as travel-review leader TripAdvisor have joined Washington-based trade group Travel Tech, a move that could set the stage for further regulatory disputes with the traditional lodging industry.

The three companies joined a roster of travel-technology firms that includes online travel agencies (OTAs) such as Expedia and Priceline Group as well as GDS operators like Sabre and Travelport. Travel Tech initiated the membership efforts.

Travel Tech (formerly known as the Interactive Travel Services Association) has been speaking up for OTAs that have been sued by municipalities for allegedly underpaying occupancy taxes on their hotel-room bookings.

The inclusion of Airbnb and HomeAway is notable because of the growing contingent of travelers staying in short-term rental accommodations. About 14% of U.S. travelers booked a private home or apartment for travel purposes last year, up from 10% in 2010, PhoCusWright said in a June report.

"These are relationships Travel Tech pursued because we saw a convergence on the policy issues faced by all travel intermediaries, whether they're short-term rental companies, online travel companies, global distribution systems or other dynamic innovators that connect travel suppliers and travel consumers," said Travel Tech spokesman Philip Minardi.

TripAdvisor spokesman Kevin Carter said Travel Tech shares TripAdvisor's goal of "connecting consumers and travel providers, eliminating barriers to travel and protecting the traveling public."

Travel Tech added the members less than three months after the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AH&LA) said it was stepping up its lobbying efforts for stronger regulations governing short-term housing rentals.

The AH&LA is trying to work more closely with governments and local hotel associations. The group is speaking up for hoteliers that have taken issue with companies like Airbnb because, they say, its home-based hosts aren't held to the same regulatory mandates that apply to hotels and in most instances don't pay occupancy taxes levied on hotels.

Among the more vocal entities pushing for stricter short-term rental regulations is New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who took Airbnb to court to obtain data on the company's New York City hosts, some of whom were suspected of renting out multiple properties.

Officials in San Francisco and Portland, Ore., are also pursuing stricter rules and more oversight of short-term rentals to address their cities' housing shortages.

Travel Tech has long defended OTAs subject to lawsuits from dozens of local governments that have sought to collect occupancy taxes on the retail price paid by the guest on merchant-model bookings. Travel Tech, on behalf of the OTAs, has insisted that those retail prices include the OTAs' markup, and that the tax should be based on the wholesale rate.

Travel Tech's newest members may provide an additional dose of lobbying clout to the extent that the three companies continue to grow rapidly and gain in popularity.

While Airbnb doesn't disclose sales figures, it reportedly secured a $450 million funding round this spring that values the company at about $10 billion.

Meanwhile, TripAdvisor, which was spun off from Expedia in 2011, boosted its revenue last year by 24%, to $944.7 million.

HomeAway, whose sites include more than 1 million listings in 190 countries, also boosted its revenue last year by 24%, to $346.5 million.

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