Airbnb hosts in the Berkshires earned $9.8 million from 61,000 short-term rental guests in 2018

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Airbnb has reported a banner year in Massachusetts, with 1.2 million guests using its services in 2018, up from 893,000 in 2017.

Statewide, hosts earned over $256 million, the company announced Wednesday, compared to $193 million in 2017. Airbnb is the leading online go-between for home-sharing short-stay rentals — an industry now targeted for stringent state regulations.

Berkshire County is sixth among the leading home-sharing regions in the state, with 61,000 guests earning $9.8 million for hosts using Airbnb.

Airbnb activity in the Berkshires ranks in the second tier of counties statewide, along with Essex County on the North Shore and Norfolk County in Brookline and southwest suburbs of Boston, said Andrew Kalloch, the company's director of public policy for Massachusetts.

The top three counties cover Boston, its close-in suburbs and Cape Cod. There are 1,200 home-sharing hosts in Berkshire County out of 15,200 statewide, according to data provided to The Eagle by Airbnb. About 64 percent of Berkshire hosts are women, and 36 percent are seniors over 60, the company stated.

Airbnb also noted that many guests at its hosted properties in the county are from elsewhere in Massachusetts, meaning that many Bay State residents use the company to explore their own state.

"The home sharing community has provided significant value to Berkshire communities during big events," according to the company, with spikes in guest arrivals during the Tanglewood season, the Williams College commencement and fall foliage tourism around Columbus Day.

The typical host in Berkshire County made about $7,300 per year from sharing a home two to three nights a month, on average, Airbnb reported.

The top five Berkshire County destinations hosting Airbnb visitors in 2018 were Pittsfield, Great Barrington, North Adams, Williamstown and Lee.

A previous company survey covering the summer of 2017 listed Stockbridge with 500 homes owned by active hosts, although some were just over the town line in Lenox, followed by 170 in Pittsfield, 130 in Great Barrington, 70 in Lee and 60 in Lenox. Other towns with hosts using Airbnb include Alford, Otis, Pittsfield, Richmond, Sheffield, Tyringham, Washington and West Stockbridge.

Kalloch pointed out that the record numbers of guests in 2018 show that the company is an "economic engine" for the state, with a total of 15,700 homeowner-hosts earning $7,800 a year, typically.

"We see millions of guests across the country and around the world who want to come to Massachusetts and spend time in different parts of the state coming to Airbnb as a first option and seeing the value that home-sharing can provide to them," he said.

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The Boston area and the Cape hosted the greatest number of statewide visitors — 465,500 visitors in Suffolk County (Boston), 230,100 in Middlesex County (suburban Boston) and 166,300 in Barnstable County (Cape Cod).

The new state law, as of July 1, requires short-stay hosts to register their properties. The state will apply a 5.7 percent tax to short-term housing rentals, the same as hotels and other traditional lodging properties, while cities and towns can choose to add an additional 6 percent local tax, which many already do for lodging sites.

Airbnb is suing Boston over some of its rules, and the company has asserted that the state law will "impose significant burdens" on its hosts.

Kalloch told The Eagle that no decision has been made on whether the company will file a lawsuit against the new state legislation signed by Gov. Charlie Baker on Dec. 28.

"We're not looking for a fight. We're looking to protect our hosts," he said. "We're looking to preserve the economic opportunities that short-term rentals create in Massachusetts."

Lawmakers have estimated that the state law would generate about $25 million in tax revenue. For last summer, Airbnb figures showed the state could have taken in almost $2.3 million in tax revenue from rentals on the Cape and Islands alone.

"We strongly support taxation," Kalloch said in a phone interview. "Our disappointment is about how complex the state has structured it, with different rates and technical complications."

Airbnb also has concerns about how the statewide online registry of hosts will be constructed, he added, citing privacy issues since the state law allows cities and towns to post the entire addresses of Airbnb hosts if they choose to.

"We hope any type of state regulation or local legislation supports the home-sharing industry instead of suppressing it," he said.

Acknowledging confusion among Airbnb hosts and potential guests on how the new state law will affect them this summer, Kalloch said that "this speaks to our concern over passing a bill in a lame-duck session instead of a formal one.

"We can't offer much guidance because so many unknowns remain, but we're going to work as hard as we can on Beacon Hill to implement this as effectively as possible so growth of the industry can continue in the Berkshires and statewide."

Clarence Fanto can be reached at cfanto@yahoo.com, on Twitter @BE_cfanto or at 413-637-2551.


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