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Cha-ching: Vacay rentals bring in bucks

By Staff | Feb 20, 2020

Airbnb, the vacation rental platform, released its annual Florida tax report on Tuesday, which revealed it collected and remitted more than $136.7 million in revenues to state and local governments, representing a nearly 50 percent increase from 2018.

In 2019 Airbnb delivered $97.1 million in sales tax revenue to the Department of Revenue, as Airbnb vacation rental hosts throughout the state earned a combined $1.2 billion in supplemental income through the platform. The $97.1 million in sales tax revenue delivered to the state is up from $62.5 million in 2018.

The big jump was caused mostly by the water quality issues we had in 2018, when red tide and blue-green algae combined to decimate the rivers and gulf, especially in Lee County.

Airbnb had a tremendous presence here in Lee, where it alone collected $2.3 million, one of the largest collections in the 44 counties where Airbnb has bed tax agreements in place and more than double from the $1.1 million in 2018.

“Vacation rentals have been an important part of the accommodations mix in Lee County for many decades. The creation of shared economy platforms like Airbnb and VRBO has given consumers even more ways to easily book a vacation to our community,” said Tamara Pigott, executive director, Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau.

Sam Randall, spokesperson for Airbnb, said they collect the taxes upfront from their local hosts.

“We collect the taxes with every booking and send them locally to the county. When people came and visit on an Airbnb listing, what they pay is collected by us and given to the county directly,” Randall said.

Randall said that money comes from local hosts who own vacation rental homes and condos, renting out their houses to visitors. About 8 percent of bookings to Southwest Florida were made on Airbnb.

In Florida, county bed taxes are largely used to fund local tourism marketing ventures, which means this revenue is helping counties to better brand themselves globally as family-friendly tourist destinations, officials said.

In 2015, the Florida DOR authorized Airbnb to collect and remit the state sales tax on behalf of all the 60,000 Airbnb vacation rental hosts throughout the state.

Cape Coral Mayor Joe Coviello said those numbers should be taken with a grain of salt, as there are many vacation rentals, he said, that don’t pay the taxes and rent out under the table.

There also is an issue in the city regarding noise at short-term rentals by those who stay there, he said adding they tend to be very noisy.

“You don’t want to trade revenue for quality of life. Rentals can be a problem for residents. Also, we know what they’re collecting, but how much are they not collecting,” Coviello said. “How many of these rentals are done under the radar? We need to look at both sides of the equation.”

The city is opposed to proposed legislation that would vest regulatory authority regarding short-term rentals with the state.

City officials say its a Home Rule Powers issue, and regulation should rest with local governments.