Airbnb is trying to burnish its image in the run-up to an expected October vote by the New Orleans City Council on short-term rentals with a series of ads featuring homeowners who take advantage of the service.
In the ads, residents who list their properties with the service talk about how the extra money brought in by renting out rooms in their homes has helped them make ends meet.
"Airbnb has meant security in a time when I really needed it," says a Carrollton resident identified as Dreama, who said she relied on money from renting out her home for six months when she was unemployed. That income, she said, allowed her and her two children to keep their home.
The campaign, which features four videos and a radio spot, is similar to those the company has run in other cities when regulation of the short-term rental market is up for debate.
The ads appear to focus on people who rent out rooms in the homes where they live — one of the least controversial ways the service is used — and who discuss how the service has helped them in times of financial hardship and a rising cost of living.
They do not touch on the most controversial aspect of the debate over short-term rentals in the city: renting of entire homes in residential neighborhoods throughout most or all of the year, not just for a few weeks a year or else renting of a few rooms in otherwise occupied homes.
The ads also echo arguments made by the Alliance for Neighborhood Prosperity, which represents short-term rental owners in New Orleans, and by other companies that compete with Airbnb to offer short-term rental listings such as HomeAway.
On the other side, there has been vocal opposition to short-term rentals in New Orleans from a number of neighborhood groups, who argue that they can disrupt and even depopulate residential neighborhoods, and from hotels and traditional bed-and-breakfasts, which see them as unfair competition.
Local affordable housing advocates also have objected to some types of short-term rentals, arguing that they remove badly needed units from the long-term rental market and thereby push up the cost of living in the city.
Short-term rentals of entire homes in residential areas should remain illegal in New Orleans…
After years of debate on the issue, the City Council is set to take a preliminary vote on rules governing short-term rentals at its Oct. 6 meeting.
"We have been working with New Orleans (officials) to find sensible rules and regulations that allow middle-class people to share their homes and make ends meet," Alison Schumer, a spokeswoman for Airbnb, said in a news release.
"We want to ensure that policy makers and the community at large understand who Airbnb is. It is important as the City Council debates this issue to not legislate to the extremes but to create regulation for the way a vast majority of how people use the Airbnb platform."
What policy the company is pushing for, however, is unclear. The ads do not specifically address the proposed city regulations, and Schumer did not respond to questions about whether Airbnb is pushing for changes to those regulations.
That proposal before the council presumably is more restrictive than the company, and other firms that provide a platform for renting out homes to tourists, would like, judging by the fact Airbnb is running the ads.
Recommendations from the City Planning Commission would ban rentals of entire properties in residential neighborhoods, which are both the most controversial and the most common type of short-term rentals in the city. Entire units make up more than 70 percent of the listings on Airbnb, according to data scraped from the site by the website InsideAirbnb.com.
The Planning Commission's recommendations would still allow whole homes to be rented in mixed-use and commercial areas. They also would allow for the rental of individual rooms or half-doubles as well as temporary short-term rentals of entire units for a limited amount of time during a year.