Airbnb dispute lodging tax

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COLUMBIA - Hotel managers and owners of short-term rental properties, like Airbnb, are clashing on a potential lodging tax for short-term rental services.

The director of The Columbia Convention and Visitors Bureau said, without regulations, short-term rental services have a bit of an advantage over local hotels because they don't have to pay the lodging tax that all hotels must pay.

The bureau held two meetings this week discussing the climate around short-term rentals and the tax. 

Airbnb host Joy Piazza said, "What my guests tell me that have stayed here before is that they like staying with me because they get tired of paying the high rates for mediocre hotels." 

The meeting on Wednesday consisted mostly of hotel managers and local Airbnb hosts debating on why the city should or shouldn't implement a tax on short-term rental services.

Piazza, whose bed and breakfast uses Airbnb to fill vacancies, said she feels the bureau favors the tax because it helps big hotels.

"I think that the CVB mission is in service of the large commercial properties," Piazza said. "I feel like this is really about the CVB is trying to find ways to increase its budget on the backs of the little guy."

Bureau Director Amy Schneider said the tax would bring more business to Airbnb hosts because it would allow the hosts to use some of the same marketing avenues as hotels.

"They would be on our website, so it would be one more promotion tool for us to use to bring people to Columbia as we are out and about talking to people about what's to offer in Columbia," she said.

Piazza said she is not confident the bureau can bring in business to her bed and breakfast.

"I track carefully with a number of tools where all of my guest come from," she said. "I have never once received a guest through the city, ever."

The key difference between hotels and short-term rental services is that short-term rental property owners aren't required to have a business license and don't have to pay a five percent lodging tax.

Piazza's said her solution to regulating short-term rental services would be to place a smaller tax on everyone involved in the tourism industry.

Schneider said she feels that a few more public meetings will be necessary before the bureau proposes a new bill on short-term rental services to the Columbia City Council.