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Tourism gets a boost as Airbnb guests flocked to Western New York in 2018

More than 140,000 people stayed in Western New York Airbnb homes this year – a reflection of the region’s growing appeal to travelers, said a spokesperson for the home-sharing service.

Some 77,500 people rented Erie County Airbnb homes in 2018, according to the company, while just under 36,000 guests stayed in Niagara County, with the balance of the visitors staying in Allegany, Cattaraugus and Chautauqua counties.

While hotel booking data for the past year won’t be available for several weeks, the Airbnb numbers are an early indication that 2018 may again be a banner year for Western New York tourism. The region has seen record visitor spending in each of the past two years, according to the travel data firm Tourism Economics.

Airbnb visitors alone spent $12.3 million last year, the site reports.

“It demonstrates that Western New York is a rising tourist destination,” said Airbnb’s northeast press secretary, Liz DeBold Fusco.

Fusco says last year’s Airbnb bookings spiked during the summer, during college commencement season and on Buffalo Bills’ home game weekends. Most of the region’s home rentals are concentrated in Buffalo and its first-ring suburbs, though several dozen can also be found outside Alfred, Ellicottville and Olean.

Dan Lamm, a 33-year-old architect, has been renting out his downtown Buffalo apartment on Airbnb for two years. The unit was so popular that he recently decided to add a second downtown Airbnb site, where he charges as much as $100 per night during the May to September peak season.

"I’ve had people from all over," he said. "Buffalo expats, a lot of people from Toronto coming down to catch concerts, a bunch of international travelers – it's a mix." 

Mike, a 43-year-old host who with his wife owns four Airbnb properties in Niagara Falls and Buffalo, said he made almost $30,000 through the site since August. He requested The Buffalo News not print his last name because he does not want his full-time employer to know about his second job.

Tourists from all over the world have stayed in his apartments, Mike said, most to visit Niagara Falls. He has also done a booming business renting to Bills and Sabres fans, as well as to holiday visitors who don't want to stay with relatives.

"In November, we had 95 percent occupancy across the four units," he said. "People are coming here even when the weather sucks. It's constant." 

As both Airbnb and local tourism grow, however, so too have calls to tax and regulate home-sharing services. Amherst and Buffalo have both signaled interest in licensing short-term home rentals to ensure their safety, and Erie and Niagara counties are in talks with Airbnb to begin remitting a hotel bed tax. Airbnb already collects the tax in Allegany, Orleans, Wyoming and Cattaraugus counties.

A 2016 study commissioned by Visit Buffalo Niagara found that Erie County Airbnbs would generate $200,000 of revenue each year if they paid the bed tax.

Fusco said conversations with the county were still in progress.

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