Hotel chains, unions, and their allies persuaded New York lawmakers last year to pass a bill banning Airbnb and other forms of roomsharing in the state. New Yorkers proceeded to ignore the law. On New Years' Eve, for example, more people booked Airbnbs in New York City than anywhere else on the planet. Data provided by the company show that 55,000 people used Airbnb on December 31, 2016—up from 47,000 people on the final night of 2015, before the ban was enacted.
What's the hotel industry to do? The answer, it seems, is to encourage New Yorkers to narc on their neighbors.
ShareBetter, a nonprofit funded by the Hotel Trades Council and the American Hotel and Lodging Association, has created a hotline to allow New Yorkers to report illegal home-sharing to the proper authorities.
— Share Better (@Share_Better) June 14, 2017
Reporting dangerous and threatening behavior to the police is one thing—and if you don't want to go directly to the cops, Airbnb already offers a hotline for complaints about bad hosts and guests. But this is one of those situations where illegal isn't exactly the same as dangerous. What threat does ShareBetter think New Yorkers need to "protect" their neighborhoods against? Visitors who want to shop in local stores, eat at local restaurants, and otherwise help locals make money? Sounds awful.
At least this effort to undermine Airbnb is direct and honest. Last month ShareBetter got caught running ads in D.C. featuring a woman who claimed to have watched tourists using Airbnb ruin her Washington neighborhood. The woman turned out to be an actress from New York City.
All this is part of a national effort. Last year the American Hotel and Lodging Association outlined plans to "actively coordinate with state and local hotel associations, along with affordable housing, neighborhood and tenant groups, consumer groups, labor, and others" to create a narrative that roomsharing is wrecking neighborhoods and hurting average Americans. In reality, the growth of services like Airbnb has helped people make extra money from unused space in their homes and lowered hotel prices during peak times like New Years' Eve, the Super Bowl, and other major events.
Hotels have controlled the hospitality sector of the economy for decades, with little external competition. Like taxi companies facing upstart ridesharing services, they're now calling for special favors from the government instead of honestly competing in the market. Banning the competition might be the only way that terrible hotels (like New York's Hotel Carter, rated the dirtiest hotel in America on Trip Advisor) can survive in a bigger marketplace with more consumer options. But more choices and more freedom are better for just about everyone else—and narcing on your neighbors isn't very nice.