The number of visitors to Florida choosing to stay in private homes through the Airbnb home-sharing app continues to explode and has topped 1.5 million for the 2016 year, the company announced Tuesday.

With Florida attracting more than 100 million visitors a year Airbnb still represents a tiny fraction of the market. But it now has captured more than 1 percent of Florida’s visitors, with survey evidence that some of those visitors wouldn’t have come otherwise. And the company discusses plenty of growth potential.

Airbnb reported that in 2015 its client homes housed about 753,000 people in the Sunshine State, and the year before it was 303,000.

This year it’s 1.5 million visitors. Airbnb also reported it’s up to 32,000 host homes, up 74 percent since last year.

And the company said that brought in $273 million in rent for those operators, supplemental income for the vast majority of them.

The continuing growth has drawn both praise from Gov. Rick Scott and warnings from a group called AirbnbWATCH, which raises concerns about the largely unregulated [and to date mostly still untaxed] new lodging option.

“It is great news that Airbnb and the home sharing community are helping more families experience the Sunshine State,” Scott stated in a news release issued by the company. “During challenging times in our state this year, Airbnb offered emergency accommodations to many families in need following the Orlando terrorist attack and Hurricane Matthew. We truly appreciate when businesses like Airbnb help Floridians in need.

But Sarah Bascom, spokeswoman for AirbnbWatch Florida, offered a concern.

“In general, Airbnb expects special treatment. It has been their practice to withhold taxes unless municipalities create a special tax structure that only applies to them and they have been hiding important data,” Bascom said. “This is what AirbnbWATCH Florida will encourage lawmakers to examine this session. It is imperative that we protect the safety and well-being of our local communities, which includes holding Airbnb accountable for paying their fair share of taxes in a manner that ensures all of the rules are being respected.”

The vast majority of Airbnb service still is in South Florida, with Miami-Dade and Broward counties accounting for more than half of the business. The company has not yet negotiated systematic tax collection systems with either of those counties, so their tax revenues from Airbnb homes is hit-and-miss, based on what the counties and operators know about each other and local and Florida laws.

Elsewhere, however, Airbnb has set up tax collection systems in 31 counties and reported that it remitted more than $20 million statewide so far this year, with more receipts pending. The taxes paid so far include $900,000 in Pinellas, $800,000 in Orange, $500,000 in Brevard  and $300,000 in Lee counties.

Central Florida market continues to increase rapidly. Both Orange and Osceola counties saw 140 percent increases in business in 2016. The Kissimmee Airbnb market took in 154,000 visitors, and the Orlando market took in 114,000.

The company conducted a survey of guests in Miami and found 36 percent said they probably would not have come without the service, and others stated that they were able to stay longer. The company also touted the spinoff economic boom to tourist attractions, restaurants and shops, particularly in neighborhoods such as Miami’s Little Havana that otherwise have little or no tourist lodging.

“Home sharing is an economic driver to cities and neighborhoods in Florida that typically get overlooked due to the lack of hotels,” Airbnb Florida Policy Director Tom Martinelli stated in the release. “Meanwhile, the infusion of new revenue to state and county coffers is helping local policymakers fund critical local services.”

Miami-Dade saw $113 million in Airbnb business in 2016; followed by Broward, $28 million; Osceola, $18.3 million; Orange, $14.3 million; Pinellas County, $12.3 million; Palm Beach County, $9.5 million; Monroe County, $8.5 million; Lee, $6.7 million, Sarasota County, $6.7 million; and Hillsborough County, $5.1 million. Also, 13 other Florida counties also topped $1 million in Airbnb business, according to the company.

About The Author

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at scott@floridapolitics.com.

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