Opinion: Carmel Airbnb hosts ‘ambassadors for their neighborhoods’



Earlier this week, local lawmakers voted in favor of limiting restrictions placed on homeowners in Indiana who wish to operate services such as those via Airbnb. The issue has now been sent to the Indiana Senate.

Airbnb offered the following response:

“Indiana is emerging as a national model for economically empowering its people and supporting family-friendly tourism. We want to thank the State Representatives who came out in support of the rights of their constituents to share their own homes,” stated public affairs manager for Airbnb Benjamin Breit. “We look forward to discussing this issue further as the Indiana Senate considers home sharing legislation.”

Commentary by Laura Spanjian, midwest policy director for Airbnb

As the sharing economy grows globally and becomes an increasingly natural component of our daily lives, many of the most unique policy implications center on mid-sized communities. While large, sprawling cities such as Chicago and Indianapolis may attract the most attention, cities such as Carmel actually stand to benefit most from this emerging trend.

In 2016, nearly 2,000 visitors experienced Carmel through Airbnb, the peer-to-peer home sharing platform. Airbnb tends to cater to travelers that either cannot afford hotel rates or prefer a more authentic travel experience that takes them outside of traditional hotel districts, so these visitors certainly help infuse new tourism revenue for the City.

As Current in Carmel has covered extensively, the City of Carmel recently took the unique step of sending cease and desist letters to all Airbnb hosts within the community. The letter equated an Airbnb listing to “a restaurant, a dry-cleaning business, factory or — as is apparently the case now — a hotel or bed-and-breakfast.”

There are less than 40 Airbnb hosts in Carmel. Half of them simply rent out an extra, unused room in their homes — often these are empty nesters whose kids have left the home. Those who rent out their entire residences largely do so only when they’re away on businesses or vacations of their own. The typical Carmel host only rents his or her listing for 15 days a year, little more than once a month.

These are not hoteliers, or even commercial operators. These are regular Carmelites, who are simply trying to make a little supplemental income in an increasingly expensive state.

Additionally, Carmel Airbnb hosts treasure the opportunity to serve as ambassadors for their neighborhoods. They often guide visitors towards community shops and restaurants that outsiders might not know to check out, as well as more traditional tourist destinations such as the Art & Design District and the Palladium concert hall.

So while Airbnb is offering new economic opportunities for the City through responsible tourism, Mayor Brainard’s concerns about zoning laws are very understandable. Carmel has laws, and it’s his job to enforce them. The good news is that there are ways Carmel can continue reaping the economic benefits of home sharing without looking the other way on its local ordinances.

The fact is that home sharing is a new industry that does not fit neatly into pre-existing regulations, both in Indiana and throughout the Midwest. However, we at Airbnb are eager to serve as good partners and collaborate with cities both big and small, from Indianapolis to Carmel and everywhere in between. We understand that different cities have different needs and priorities, which should be reflected in new home sharing regulations.

Ultimately, our mission is to welcome visitors while maintaining the fabric of what makes these communities so special. Those 40 Airbnb hosts want to serve as responsible, steadfast partners to bolster Carmel’s family friendly tourist brand.

Carmelites rightly prize their incredible quality of life, a distinction that Mayor Brainard and his team have helped cultivate. We at Airbnb believe that with clear, fair regulations in place, the growth of the sharing economy can help protect and even elevate that quality of life. We look forward to partnering with the City towards commonsense home sharing rules that empower and benefit all.

Laura Spanjian is the Midwest policy director for Airbnb.

Submitted column.

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