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Editorial: Home-sharing is a hit in Buffalo Niagara, as supply meets growing demand

Western New York is hot, the thermometer’s report notwithstanding.

Not hot as in “it’s hotter than, well, you know,” but hot in the way anyone interested in the economic health and vitality of the community would want. It is the place to be: on vacation, staycation, business trip or whatever the excuse. People are finding us on the map – and returning.

Evidence of this fact shows up in reports that more than 140,000 people stayed in Airbnb homes around Western New York last year. Specifically, 77,500 people rented Erie County Airbnb homes in 2018, according to the company.

In Niagara County, just under 36,000 guests made themselves at home, and the rest of the visitors stayed in Allegany, Cattaraugus and Chautauqua counties.

Hotel booking data for the past year are not yet available but the Airbnb numbers are reason for looking back on 2018 as a “banner” year for Western New York tourism.

And why not?

Consider the raft of great publicity the region received with the accolades as one of the Top 52 Places to Go in 2018 (at No. 37) by The New York Times and the praise from the Times of London and Lonely Planet. There’s stuff to do here from Canalside with the kids to arts, culture, science and symphony. It helps to have Visit Buffalo Niagara staff pushing Western New York as ably as they do. The Airbnb statistics indicate the word is rapidly spreading. The company’s northeast press secretary said last year’s Airbnb bookings “spiked” during the summer, and also during college commencement season and (anyone selling chicken wings will love this) on Buffalo Bills home game weekends.

Most of the region’s home rentals tend to be concentrated in Buffalo and its first-ring suburbs, but plenty of people are checking in around Alfred, Ellicottville and Olean. Even for Buffalonians, it can be a treat to stay in home-sharing accommodations such as Airbnb on one-tank trips around the region.

It’s also lucrative for those renting out their places – one man by the name of Mike, who did not want his last name used, owns with his wife four Airbnb properties in Niagara Falls and Buffalo. The couple had a decent year with Mike saying he made nearly $30,000 through the site since August.

Airbnb visitors spent $12.3 million last year, according to the site. If trends persist, it should be easy to keep the money flowing. Some would say that over-regulation might put a damper on prosperity. There have been calls to tax and regulate home-sharing. It is fair to require Airbnb and similar businesses to adhere to certain safety regulations, just as any other accommodation business. People renting through Airbnb, or any other home-sharing site should be safe, and the experience relatively worry free.

Amherst and Buffalo may get around to licensing the short-term home rentals to address safety issues. On another issue, Erie and Niagara counties are discussing with Airbnb and similar companies the possibility of remitting a hotel bed tax. The company collects hotel bed taxes in Allegany, Orleans, Wyoming and Cattaraugus counties.

Without a doubt, the potential $200,000 of revenue each year if the bed tax were being paid in Buffalo and Erie County is intriguing. Visit Buffalo Niagara commissioned a study in 2016 which cited the number. It’s almost like finding the money between the sofa cushions.

Home-sharing has taken hold among a set of travelers. All indications point to further stays, and more money into the local economy. It’s good news.

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