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Airbnb airs TV ad campaign while Miami Beach charges millions in fines

Wynwood Airbnb host Carol in a T.V. ad developed by the home-sharing company. Carol says she rents out a room in her home, helping her make ends meet.
Wynwood Airbnb host Carol in a T.V. ad developed by the home-sharing company. Carol says she rents out a room in her home, helping her make ends meet. Airbnb

While Miami Beach cracks down on short-term rental hosts with millions of dollars in fines, home-sharing company Airbnb is launching a TV advertising campaign Thursday in South Florida.

The ads promote Airbnb’s economic contributions to Miami while featuring airy shots of tidy apartments and colorful Miami streets. “Airbnb is bringing a lot of tourism to Miami,” according to one ad featuring a Wynwood host named Carol. “When Airbnb guests stay in Miami’s neighborhoods, they spend more at local businesses,” says another.

The advertising series is the first large-scale, localized effort by Airbnb to promote its site, where hosts can rent out a room or an entire apartment or home to tourists. The ads will run on local broadcast, cable and digital networks. As part of the nearly $1 million campaign, radio ads have also been airing in Spanish and English for the past couple of weeks.

The plan to bring the ads to Miami has been in the works for several months, and not as a response to fines, said Benjamin Breit, a spokesman for Airbnb. They target the already Airbnb-friendly Miami market: according to data provided to the Miami Herald by the site, Miami is the No.4 home-sharing market in the U.S.

But most listings are on Miami Beach — a location the four new TV ads steer clear of mentioning. Tension continues to build between Airbnb and the city, where short-term rentals are largely illegal. The crucial hotel industry has said it feels the short-term rental company is not playing on equal ground because it doesn’t pay resort taxes or follow regulatory guidelines imposed on hotels.

 

Since early March, the city has issued stiff fines of $20,000 each for first-time offenders who rent their property for less than six months and a day in areas not zoned for short-term rentals. Each subsequent fine escalates by an additional $20,000. Most fines go to Airbnb hosts.

Between March 19 and Sept. 7, Miami Beach had levied about $2.75 million in fines, according to Miami Beach Code Compliance Department, including $320,000 in fines to Airbnb directly, rather than its hosts, plus smaller fines for short-term rentals advertised on HomeAway.com and Booking.com.

In the meantime, Airbnb has continued talks with the the county to start collecting and remitting resort taxes and set up regulations. Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez’s office said the most recent meeting was held on Sept. 2, but an operating agreement has not yet been reached.

“We continue to have productive conversations with Miami Beach policymakers and are committed to working together to create clear, fair rules that work for everyone,” Breit said.

$2.75 million Amount in fines Miami Beach has levied on illegal short-term rentals from Mach 19 to Sept. 1

Rather than step on that active land mine, the TV ads focus on hosts in Wywnood — with both English and Spanish ads — and Pinecrest.

“[Airbnb] is helping the Miami residents financially but it’s also helping businesses, right, because I am then recommending restaurants, movie theaters, discotheques — whatever it is, to people who are coming from around the world,” says Carol, the host in the Wynwood ad who is only identified by her first name.

The money she earns from renting out a room in her home is then used to help pay her rent, Carol says in the ad. Another ad, in Spanish with host Yualys in Wynwood, expands on the idea: 66 percent of hosts on Airbnb in Miami say they use the money to pay their rent or mortgage, it reads.

Whether Airbnb is a year-round, full-time operation for South Florida hosts or an occasional income booster is another central point in the battle between the hotel industry and home-sharing companies. A report released by the American Hotel & Lodging Association in May claims that Airbnb hosts in South Florida earned a combined more than $47 million last year, largely thanks to an increasing number of hosts who rent their properties for 360 days or more.

But according to data provided by Airbnb, 52 percent of listings through Sept. 1 were rented for 60 days or less, while 16 percent were rented for more than 180 days.

[Airbnb] is helping the Miami residents financially but it’s also helping businesses, right, because I am then recommending restaurants, movie theaters, discotheques — whatever it is, to people who are coming from around the world.

Wynwood Airbnb host Carol in a TV ad

The platform has stressed that most hosts rent their units for a few days at a time in similar ads that have started running in other cities in the U.S. where contentious debates about the service also rage. Last week, ads began airing in New Orleans focusing on hosts who rent out rooms in their homes — rather than their full home for long periods — ahead of a preliminary vote on short-term rentals set for Oct. 6. Ads in Seattle began running Wednesday promoting hosts who also rent just a room in their homes, following proposals from the city’s mayor and council members to regulate Airbnb rentals.

San Francisco-based Airbnb was founded in 2008 but took off in 2014 in Miami, growing to nearly 110,000 inbound guests as of Sept.1. Guests have cited the affordability of the rentals as a motivator when choosing an Airbnb rental over a hotel booking.

Miami commands some of the highest hotel room rates in the nation, with an average rate of $195.75 in 2015, ranking No. 4 in the country, according to the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau. By comparison, the average Airbnb listing in Miami-Dade is $95 a night, Airbnb said.

In a TV spot featuring a New York traveler, Linda, that difference is subtly highlighted: “I was definitely able to stay longer and spend more because I stayed at an Airbnb.”

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