Note to Hotel Industry Trying to Hamstring Airbnb: Capitalism, Not Cronyism


Airbnb had a rough year last year. It seems like everywhere they turned, they were being bombarded by regulatory schemes designed to hamstring them. At the heart of all of it, there was one group that proudly claimed responsibility.


The short-term rental company became a Federal Trade Commission target last summer after three senators asked for an investigation into how companies like Airbnb affect soaring housing costs. In October, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York signed a bill imposing steep fines on Airbnb hosts who break local housing rules.

The two actions appeared unrelated. But one group quietly took credit for both: the hotel industry.

In a presentation in November, the American Hotel and Lodging Association, a trade group that counts Marriott International, Hilton Worldwide and Hyatt Hotels as members, said the federal investigation and the New York bill were “notable accomplishments.”

Both were partly the result of a previously unreported plan that the hotel association started in early 2016 to thwart Airbnb. The plan was laid out in two separate documents that the organization presented to its board in November and January. In the documents, which The New York Times obtained, the group sketched out the progress it had already made against Airbnb, and described how it planned to rein in the start-up in the future.

Apparently, the hotel industry views rent-seeking behavior as a valid strategy within capitalism.

Well, it’s not.

Had the industry sought a reduction in regulations that prevented them from competing, that would have been fair game, but that’s not what they did. No, they’re not interested in beating their competition. They want to use the government as a club to pummel their competition.


Airbnb, much like Uber and Lyft, is an example of how technology has changed how people do things. In this case, it’s finding a place to stay while traveling. With Uber and Lyft, it’s getting a ride. However, it could be any number of things tomorrow, and all these new technologies seem to be attacked by industries that would rather stomp out the new light in the darkness than actually have to compete.

I get that these industries don’t like competition. No one likes the threat new competition represents, after all. However, that doesn’t give them license to use government force.

Instead, figuring out how to actually compete would be more in keeping with the American business spirit. Unfortunately, that’s too much like work for the hotel industry.


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