NEW ORLEANS -- Record numbers of Airbnb rentals during Jazz Fest are renewing the public fight against short-term rentals in New Orleans.
This year, nearly 20,000 guests will use Airbnb to stay in New Orleans during the festival, the rental company said in a statement. While Jazz Fest is typically a time of booming business for many hotels and inns in the city, for the first time ever some members of the Professional Innkeepers Association of New Orleans are seeing Jazz Fest room vacancies.
“It’s very discouraging because these people can just open their doors, collect money and put it right in their pockets,” said Bonnie Rabe, Innkeeper at the Grand Victoria Bed and Breakfast on St. Charles Avenue.
Around the city, many signs condemning short-term rentals and their impact on business owners are popping up in the Seventh Ward and in Mid-City next to the Fairgrounds. Businesses are also feeling the short-term rental pinch.
“Twenty percent of PIANO members have vacancies over Jazz Fest that's a substantial number," Rabe said. "These are all small businesses that took out substantial loans, hired staff.”
She said she normally hires three people to help her during festival season, but this year she could only employ one.
On Friday, Airbnb wrote an open letter on its website saying Jazz Fest business is booming in 15 neighborhoods across New Orleans. The company said the number of people using Airbnb to stay for Jazz Fest is nearly two and half times higher than last year.
The Alliance for Neighborhood Prosperity New Orleans is also seeing an uptick in business. The group is made up of property owners in favor of short-term rentals.
“Over the two weekends of Jazz Fest we're going to host over 100,000 visitors in New Orleans,” said Eric Bay with the Alliance for Neighborhood Prosperity (ANP). “These are people who chose to stay in a private rental.”
One ANP member even posting a note of support to tourists on the Alliance's Facebook page to counter the negative signs appearing around town.
Bay said the group is willing to pay city taxes for short-term rentals and points to the potential revenue being lost by the City of New Orleans this Jazz Fest.
“That was almost $5 million in room revenue that we received as operators,” added Bay. “If the City was able to put a nine percent tax on that, I'm not a mathematician, but I think that's $750,000. If we’re licensed at a minimal amount maybe $250,000.”
As Jazz Fest does what it does best, the illegal short-term rental market continues to be felt in very different ways.
“In 18 years that I've been in this business, never have we seen properties with holes in their schedule at Jazz Fest time,” said Rabe.
That’s not the case with members of ANP.
“Most of us are booked for Jazz Fest next year, these are not fly by night visitors,” said Bay. “Five out of twenty-eight of these are educated, higher echelon people.”
Airbnb says the company will generate an estimated $17 million in economic activity for New Orleans during Jazz Fest.
City leaders are still trying to iron out new laws to better regulate short-term rentals.