Exploring the benefits of AirBnB

Published 8:11 am Thursday, January 18, 2018

We all have heard a lot of talk about crafting a Tourism based economy and there are some initiatives to help move that idea forward. The City Planning Office has developed day-trip itineraries with three different activity categories making it easy for anyone to find something of interest in Elizabethton. We are also working with the County Mayor’s Office to gather support for a hotel analysis study to determine the feasibility to a new hotel here. But until a hotel is possible, there is another tool that some rural communities are using to increase tourism — AirBnB.
For those of you who haven’t heard of it, AirBnB is an online intermediary (like Uber) that matches property owners who are looking to do short-term rentals with interested travelers who need a place to stay. It has become a wildly popular way to travel for college students and other leisure travelers to find places to stay that are interesting and near their destination. A host home provides a room or an entire apartment or home for a short period of time to the traveler with the transaction occurring via the AirBnB website. The traveler gets a place to stay and the host gets a little extra cash in their wallet.
For Elizabethton, AirBnB offers an opportunity for us, as a community, to open up our homes and apartments to visitors who will bring money to spend in our local community. Since we do not yet have a hotel, AirBnB has the power to give Elizabethton a tourism based economy without actually having a hotel. Additionally, if short-term rentals increase more visitors will be tracked visiting our city and county making it more attractive for a hotel to locate here. It would be similar to a tourist driving to Gatlinburg and renting a cabin for a week, except that the cabin would be YOUR cabin here in Carter County and it would be found through AirBnB rather than some regional or national rental agency.
Now, AirBnB is certainly not a one solution fix; there are some concerns with AirBnB rentals. One, most people living in a quiet, single-family, residential neighborhood in Elizabethton don’t want a houseful of six to eight people moving in and out every week. Additionally, capturing the appropriate taxes, such as the Occupancy Tax that pays for our Tourism activities and the Sales Tax that helps fund our school systems, is difficult to identify and collect when people are renting out a room for the night or their house for a week. These are taxes potentially lost which might otherwise be captured if a hotel or other formal lodging facility was present.
Various cities see the benefits of encouraging AirBnB and provide regulations to allow them. Other cities ban them outright because of some of the problems. What are your thoughts? Is this something we should take a serious look at in our community? Let’s talk about it!
(Jon Hartman is Director of Planning & Economic Development for the City of Elizabethton. He can be contacted at 542-1503 or by email: jhartman@cityofelizabethton.org)

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