Hotel groups taking the low road in anti-Airbnb fight

If your argument can’t win on its own merits and you lack shame, then it’s time to play dirty.

Florida has been on the frontlines in the war between vacation rental platforms and traditional hotels.

So far, major vacation rental platforms have scored most of the wins while hotel chains have seen their grip erode.

Airbnb’s agreements with Florida counties alone netted the state $89.5 million in tax remissions to local governments while paying out a combined $810 million in vacation rental home income for its 45,000 host properties, paid by approximately 4.5 million guests.

Still, the attacks continue.

Instead of dinging the vacation rental industry for things like noise ordinances or the “loss of community” some neighbors feel once rental properties start showing up on their cul-de-sacs, however, anti-vacation rental groups such as American Hotel & Lodging Association have been boosting the nebulous claims of the nonprofit Stop Child Predators and it’s Florida-focused offshoot Our Neighborhoods.

Both groups are headed up by Stacie Rumenap, who has spent the last year writing op-eds in Florida newspapers that attempt to pin child sexual abuse on vacation rental companies.

One piece, published in the Pensacola News Journal last year, said a statewide regulatory framework on vacation rentals “would endanger tens of thousands of children across the great state of Florida and in your district.”


“There is no safeguard in place to stop a child predator from renting an Airbnb property next door,” she said.

Similar op-eds have sprung up in the News-Press, Florida Times-Union and the Miami Herald. Stop Child Predators has gone so far as to issue grades to lawmakers for their votes on vacation rental bills.

One might assume Stop Child Predators (and it’s Florida-focused offshoot Our Neighborhoods) are being earnest in making those claims. One would be wrong.

There’s a cache of evidence indicating these organizations are no more than an astroturfing campaign backed by traditional hotel groups — a look at the advertisements produced by Stop Child Predators show they’re employing the same language and scare tactics the hotel industry uses in its own efforts to quell Airbnb and other vacation rental platforms.

“Commercial landlords are using Airbnb to rent out multiple residential properties year-round, just like a hotel, while avoiding regulation and taxes,” writes the AHLA on the “Illegal Hotels” page of its website.

“Commercial landlords are increasingly using short-term rental sites like Airbnb to rent out multiple residential properties year-round, just like a hotel, while avoiding safeguards designed to protect patrons and the surrounding community,” writes Stop Child Predators on its “Special Projects” page.

It wouldn’t be the first time the American Hotel & Lodging Association exploited the suffering of children to boost its own bottom line — the trade association admitted in an internal document that it had propped up another group, AirbnbWATCH,

It similarly backed up Neighbors for Overnight Oversight, a group with a now-defunct website that redirects visitors to Stop Child Predators.

Their arguments are shaky at best.

It’s true, as Stop Child Predators claims, that 5 percent of boys and 12 percent of girls are sexually abused prior to their 18th birthday. What they omit: only 7 percent of that abuse is committed by strangers.

The fact is, it’s no more common for a predator to use a vacation rental as a home base for child abuse than it is for them to use a hotel or even their own homes.

AHLA and its patsy organizations have only managed to prove one point: if your argument can’t win on its own merits and you lack shame, then it’s time to play dirty.

Peter Schorsch

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including Florida Politics and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. Schorsch is also the publisher of INFLUENCE Magazine. For several years, Peter's blog was ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.


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