Leaked Documents Reveal the Hotel Lobby's Aggressive Plan to Undermine Airbnb

Image: Getty
Image: Getty

Airbnb can be an awesome service for frugal travelers, and it feels especially great to use when the only other option is staying at an overpriced boutique hotel in the same city. But the incumbent hotel lobby is hoping to highlight some of the weaknesses of the “short-term rental” service, including how it negatively impacts communities and allows unregulated businesses to thrive.


A document recently obtained by The New York Times reveals the hotel lobby’s plan to thwart Airbnb’s business by pushing for bills to regulate the company at every level of government. Although we’ve known for years that hotel lobbyists have been fighting to impose regulations on Airbnb, the new document shows just how well-organized the upstart’s opponents are.

According to documents from the American Hotel and Lodging Association—a trade group that includes the country’s biggest hotel chains, including Marriott, Hilton, Hyatt, the Four Seasons and Starwood Hotels—the organization is planning a multi-pronged attack at local, state, and federal levels to prevent Airbnb from spreading to new cities across the country.

Part of the strategy includes “aggressively countering” Airbnb’s claim that it’s just helping the middle class make ends meet “with a wave of personal testimonials of consumer harm.” The document essentially serves as opposition research and gives its members talking points about Airbnb’s alleged racism and taxation issues. According to the document, the association will focus its efforts on Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston, Washington, and Miami, where Airbnb has yet to establish a strong footing.

Gizmodo has reached out to Airbnb and AHLA for comment and we’ll update this post as soon as we hear back.

AHLA’s powerful anti-Airbnb agenda isn’t all that surprising when you look at the precedent that’s been set in some of the country’s most popular travel destinations. Airbnb has already fought contentious legal battles with regulators in cities like New York City and Washington, DC. In October, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a bill into law that prevents New Yorkers from renting out their vacant apartments for 30 days or less following concerns that Airbnb was driving up the price of rentals. The association claims this and other recent regulations affecting Airbnb as victories.

The issue is that in both New York and Washington, Airbnb has led to a strange underground market where landlords can take rent-controlled buildings and turn them into unregulated money-making machines. Lawmakers and hotel lobbyists believe that housing-constrained cities like New York suffer greatly from landlords who are running the equivalent of illegal hotels.


All of this comes just as Airbnb is preparing to IPO. Airbnb Brian Chesky CEO has publicly stated the company will be ready to go public in about a year, and investors estimate the company’s value to be about $30 billion. By comparison, that is $10 billion greater than Hilton Hotels current value and only $5 billion short of Marriot’s market capitalization. Airbnb could actually have a bright future as a publicly traded company—but first it has to run this next gauntlet of legal battles.

The relevant portion of the AHLA’s Board Book is embedded below. The full book can be read here.


[AHLA Board Book via New York Times]


Technology editor at Gizmodo.



As a business traveller who’s sick to the back teeth of hotels, I personally love Airbnb (and similar services). Hotels could take all the money they’re going to throw at this and make their own service better, but they won’t. The existing hotel model is the exact reason airbnb exists. Shitty, overpriced taxis are the reason Uber and Lyft exist.
The hotel’s push here seems to miss the whole point of airbnb - there’s a lot of people like me who would sooner shoot ourselves in the head than stay in another faceless box, eating breakfast to a schedule off polystyrene throw-away plates, and dealing with all the other problems. I mean for Chrissake it’s 2017. How TF can Hilton and Marriott not have A/C units more advanced than those diesel-bus-sounding boxes stuffed under the window? Best Western - Holiday Inn - ever heard of metal knives and forks? And who the hell still charges for shitty, slow WiFi? (Ahem! Hilton, Hyatt, Marriott, I’m looking at you). And the hotels that don’t provide combined bed-and-breakfast rates - $19 for a bowl of cereal, an OJ and some toast? What the actual fuck?
I hate staying in hotels with a vengeance. I’d far sooner rent someone’s house, or barn, or loft for a week and come and go on my own schedule, living in comfort, for about the same price (often a lot less).
Yes, airbnb, like Lyft and Uber, needs some regulation. But the hotels are squarely to blame for this and perhaps they should spend more time looking at how to fix their own problems, and less time trying to ruin someone else’s business.