Growing Airbnb industry a concern for MS tourism and taxes

Growing Airbnb industry a concern for MS tourism and taxes

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - There's a growing industry on the Coast that is becoming a growing problem.

Unregulated and untaxed short-term rentals have tourism and government officials worried.

The marketing platform Airbnb has helped turn a cottage industry into a major industry.

"It's growing tremendously across the nation," said Linda Hornsby, executive director of the Mississippi Hotel & Lodging Association.

According to a recent press release from Airbnb, Mississippi families earned more than $6 million in home sharing in 2017 and brought in 50,000 guests.

Not everyone is happy with these figures.

Unlike motels, hotels and established bed and breakfasts, many of those who are using Airbnb are flying under the radar. They're not paying their taxes and they are not regulated. That, many officials say, is a real problem.

Hornsby said the hotel industry is getting hurt by home sharing."If they are staying in an Airbnb marketed home, then they're not staying in a hotel room," he said.

The threat to the tax base is a big concern.

"Whether it's by omission or commission, the majority of them are not paying it," Hornsby said. "They're not collecting the taxes, they're not paying them. So, it creates an uneven playing field."

Safety and neighborhood security are also issues.

"On one hand, people feel like it's their property," said Biloxi Public Affairs Manager Vincent Creel. "They should be able to do what they want with it. But when it starts diminishing the quality of life for their neighbors, that's usually when it becomes a problem."

Creel added that enforcement is difficult because of the time and manpower, but neighbor complaints help bring attention of the problem to authorities.

According to Milton Segarra, the CEO of Visit Mississippi Gulf Coast, it's important for the home sharing industry to abide by the same rules as everyone else. He would rather approach the situation with inclusion in mind, rather than exclusion.

"It's an important segment," noted Segarra. "It will continue to grow, and we need to look the way how we blend those. So when someone wants to come to the destination they have a myriad of alternatives."

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