City News

As the number of visitors to Arizona continues to rise, so does the number of people seeking a slightly different lodging experience.

Last week, Airbnb, the largest company of its kind, announced hosts in Arizona using its platform earned a combined $50.9 million in supplemental income last year while welcoming 329,000 visitors — a 152 percent jump from the previous year. In that same time, the number of Airbnb hosts in Arizona grew to 7,600 — a 61 percent increase over the year before.

In 2016, Sedona saw 29,000 guest arrivals, which brought in more than $4.6 million for local homeowners.

In May of last year, Gov. Doug Ducey signed Senate Bill 1350, which made short-term rentals throughout the state legal as of Jan. 1.

Prior to that, it was against both Sedona and Yavapai County codes to have a short-term rental.

In regard to the dramatic increase of Airbnb users in Arizona, company spokeswoman Laura Rillos told the Sedona Red Rock News that people are traveling more than they ever have and the way people travel is changing as well.

“Arizona continues to be a popular destination for Airbnb travelers looking for authentic experiences that are unique to the desert southwest,” she said. “In 2016, visitors from over 100 countries came to Arizona. Airbnb guests are seeking a local experience, where they can feel like they actually live in a community.”

At the same time, she said Airbnb [as well as other similar third-party companies] is enabling Arizona property owners to turn one of their greatest expenses — their homes — into a way to make ends meet. The typical host in Arizona earns $4,900 per year sharing his or her home, she said.

“We know Airbnb guests typically stay longer and spend more money at local businesses, so this can generate significant revenue for the local community,” she said. “Airbnb guests want to live like a local and when they travel to Sedona, they’re looking for a travel experience that’s unique to the area, like the picturesque hiking trails and the Tlaquepaque Arts and Crafts Village.”

Ever since Senate Bill 1350 was passed, many Sedona residents have raised concerns about the potential impact short-term rentals may have on their neighborhoods. Rillos said the overwhelming majority of Airbnb hosts and guests are good neighbors and respectful travelers, so issues are rare.

“But when they happen, we work to make things right,” she said. “We have no tolerance for this type of behavior and we immediately ban guests from the platform. Hosts who repeatedly fail to meet our standards are subject to suspension or removal from the Airbnb community.

“We want to do everything we can to help our hosts be good neighbors in the places they call home. To achieve that, we launched a resource called the neighbor tool, which allows Airbnb hosts to share specific concerns about a listing.”

Steve Segner, president of the Sedona Lodging Council, said while short-term rentals will have an impact on the smaller hotels and bed and breakfasts, the larger hotels are not as worried.

“Most of us are focusing on a different clientele than those who are seeking to rent a home,” he said. “Then again, I’ve had long-time guests who I’ll see and they said they’re renting a house for seven or 10 days for a variety of reasons. Every hotel has seen that.”

He said many local hotels that once hosted weddings and wedding parties are now seeing those groups renting a couple of large homes instead of a block of rooms.

“I think we will see less occupancy over the next couple of years,” Segner said. “But a lot of the hotels are making improvements and in return raising the daily rates. So, we’ll be able to cover the cost of those customers we may lose.”

But it’s not just revenues Segner and others in the lodging industry face in regard to short-term rentals.

“In some ways it’s not fair that we [hotels] have to jump through so many hoops in regard to safety and get all the inspections but those who are renting their homes aren’t required to do so,” he said.

“In addition, there are so many people now converting their homes and rooms into short-term rentals that we’re losing so much of a our affordable housing in Sedona. That’s the real story. We’re all having a hard time finding and keeping employees because they have nowhere affordable to live.”

Jennifer Wesselhoff, president and CEO of the Sedona Chamber of Commerce, said she’s glad to see that Sedona residents have generated an extra $4.6 million that can be used to circulate through Sedona’s economy. And, she said it will be interesting to see how these numbers increase now that this activity is legal in Sedona.

For the purpose of discussion, she said if it were legal in 2016, and assuming that all these homes in Airbnb’s report were located in the city limits, the city would have generated $300,000 in sales and bed taxes.

“I think the real implications for Sedona are twofold,” she said. “First, the city’s ability to manage capacity given that infrastructure and traffic concerns are top issues for the city. And second, the implications to work force supply and affordable housing. In fact, in our most recent business survey, we asked businesses what the top issues facing them in 2016 were and the top two issues identified were labor supply and affordable housing. Coming in third was transportation issues.”

Wesselhoff then added, “In the end, we’d like to work closely with Airbnb and other short-term rental companies to help our short-term renters be good neighbors and to help Sedona’s hosts grow our economy, help preserve Sedona’s natural resources and have an overall positive impact on our community.”


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