The hotel industry is ramping up its Washington profile as it looks to counter the online home-sharing service, Airbnb. The industry’s political action committee, HotelPAC, spent money in 225 congressional races during the 2016 election, a record for the group.
During the election cycle, they raised $1.5 million and gave out $1.3 million to congressional candidates, breaking their own fundraising and spending records.
In the minutes of a January American Hotel and Lodging Association board meeting obtained by The Hill, HotelPAC and its parent organization, the American Hotel Lodging Organization, said the money boosted candidates who back the industry and were potentially in favor of having Airbnb “play by the same rules”.
“Disbursements have been made in a strategic, bi-partisan, bi-cameral fashion to support members of Congress and candidates who are pro-lodging and pro-employer,” the minutes read.
During the meeting, the group said their plans going forward include ramping up fundraising and expanding their donor base. Board members also discussed plans to expand grassroots organizing and using the newly launched HotelsACT group to mobilize hotel owners, managers and franchisers on legislation.
It’s only the latest salvo in the fight between the industry and Airbnb, which allows people to share homes and rooms, worrying hotel owners who fear it is cutting into their business. The hotel industry has called for greater scrutiny on Airbnb, and they have managed to get attention from lawmakers.
Additional documents from the lobby group, first reported on by The New York Times, touted a letter from Democratic Sens. Brian Schatz (Hawaii), Elizabeth Warren (Calif.) sent to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) last July, raising concerns about Airbnb in regard to housing costs, racial discrimination, consumer protection and safety.
The group said the letter came after they “worked closely” with the lawmakers to raise their concerns. The board said that in 2017, they planned to “advance federal legislative efforts to level the playing field in specific areas and push back on Airbnb’s offensive within the Beltway”.
The minutes floated a proposed ban on federal workers staying in short term housing that violates state and local laws and prohibiting short-term housing rentals in federally subsidized housing.
The AHLA defended its positions in an emailed statement.
“AHLA is a trade association, with a clear mandate and mission to vigorously advocate on behalf of the hospitality industry and its millions of employees,” said Rosanna Maietta, Senior Vice President of Communications for the AHLA. “It should come as no surprise that AHLA’s political action committee, HotelPAC, makes political disbursements in a strategic, bi-partisan, bi-cameral fashion to support pro-lodging members of Congress and candidates’ campaigns.
“We stand firm in support of our shared goal: to protect communities and travelers from the commercial operators who use websites like Airbnb to run illegal hotels in residential properties.”
The fight between the hotel lobby and Airbnb has largely been fought in front of state and local governments.
New York, Chicago and San Francisco have passed tougher laws over short-term rentals, which the group touted. AHLA’s board also highlighted a New York state law that makes it easier to fine Airbnb hosts who break local housing rules as one of their top accomplishments of 2016.
Airbnb is also fighting back. The company spent a record $485,000 on its lobbying in 2016 and began donating money to candidates.
In a blogpost on Monday, Airbnb said hotels are attacking them because they want to “keep price gouging” their customers.
The company cited recent comments from hotel executives that their ability to set pricing has been impacted by Airbnb.
By Ali Breland from The Hill