Hotel industry uses scare tactics to rebuke Airbnb

On Monday morning, as MSNBC's "Morning Joe" segued to commercial, the viewing audience was served this:

Yikes! Lucky for me I live in a building with only one other tenant, who, while not 100-percent positive, I don't believe is part of any terrorist sleeper cell. Something about the music he plays that penetrates our thin walls tells me so. 

The roughly half-million-dollar ad above, paid for by the Hotel Association of New York City and a local workers union, will run for 10 days, according to the Daily News, in prime morning and evening spots in New York City, on such channels as CNN, the aforementioned MSNBC and Fox News, and during Yankees and Mets games.

It is certainly the most extreme censure of Airbnb to date. Before, hotel industry-backed ads against Airbnb were limited to the illegality of the home-sharing platform, landlords who allowed it and potential fines those who broke the law faced: 


The hotel industry, in its previous ads excoriating Airbnb, literally tugged on illegal hosts' purse strings: you will face a hefty fine—$7,500 to be exact—if you are caught listing and hosting guests for any period fewer than 30 days in multiunit buildings, a violation in New York City since 2010.

This newest ad, then, is a departure of sorts. It's straight scare tactic designed to convince cities that Airbnb and other home-sharing platforms are not only illegal, but could potentially be havens for terrorists. Literally aiding and abetting those who want to cause harm. The newest ad cites the Manchester, UK, attack and the perpetrator, Salman Abedi, using a short-term rental rented though an online realtor.

Bjorn Hanson, clinical professor at NYU’s Jonathan M. Tisch Center for Hospitality and Tourism, watched the commercial and noted its positioning.

"One of the most interesting observations for me is the alignment of Local 6 and the Hotel Association of New York City, and that Local 6 is listed first," he said. 

The content of the ad, according to Hanson, carries a potent message. "It is an effective ad despite the extreme scariness of the message about terrorists because it will cause many viewers to think more broadly about who is staying in units in their buildings and neighborhoods, even if not terrorists, maybe others involved in illegal or troubling activity or with bad other bad behaviors," he said.

The Hotel Association of New York City is not affiliated with the American Hotel & Lodging Association, the Washington, D.C.-based trade group that has been equally vocal against Airbnb and the like. While the AH&LA is not affiliated in any way with the new ad, a spokesperson for the organizations said, "We support efforts to rein in illegal hotels and to protect the integrity of neighborhoods and the traveling public around the country."

Unsurprisingly, Airbnb's response to the ad was sharp, “An outrageous scare tactic by big hotels who themselves have a long history of lodging people who engage in acts of terror,” Airbnb spokesperson Peter Schottenfels said. 

How genuine the Hotel Association of New York City's intent is with the ad is, of course, debatable. Its membership is composed of New York City hotels, from the Ace New York to the Z NYC in Queens. In sum, the association represents more than 280 hotels in the city. The organization certainly has an agenda to ensure its member hotels are defended and taken care of. 

It's not just New York that has been trying to crack down on Airbnb and its ilk. Cities such as Paris and Amsterdam have done the same. If Airbnb and the hotel industry can co-exist is still up for debate

"Although different studies find different levels of effects on hotel occupancy and ADR, it has become clear that Airbnb is affecting traditional hotels," Hanson said. "There are fewer studies on the effect on neighborhoods, but that is next."

Editor's Note: Stay tuned to this post as we will update it throughout the day with comments from the industry.