Airbnb claims it has supported $2.5 billion in spending throughout New Zealand last year and while dealt a blow by the pandemic says it could be key to the tourism recovery.
The US-based accommodation-sharing platform has reportedly got its initial public offering back on track and says it has weathered the Covid crisis better than forecast.
It is on the offensive, last week releasing details of what it is doing to ensure its hosts are following tax rules around the world and now a detailed study it commissioned on its economic impact here compared to other countries.
The platform faces opposition from hotels which invest billions of dollars in property and (until this year) employed tens of thousands of staff- and say they want a level regulatory playing field here. But Airbnb says that's what its pushing for too.
In this country it has more than 37,000 listings and they had enjoyed a strong bounce-back during the past two and a half months but this had been suddenly dented by the re-emergence of Covid-19 in the community this week.
Head of public policy for New Zealand and Australia Derek Nolan said the Covid impact had been harsh.
Two thirds of the market had disappeared here with the shutting of borders in March.
"I think there was a great sense of hope among our hosts throughout New Zealand that they were pioneering in coming through in such a spectacular way. What has happened in the last few days is that element of uncertainty has come back again and our hosts are concerned. Certainly sentiment is very cautious among our community."
The company could not provide some figures for last year, but in 2017-18 hosts offered 1.5 million guest nights.
While some hosts dipped in and out of the Airbnb platform he said there hadn't been any "material drop" in the number of them as a result of Covid.
The Oxford Economics study provides a pre-Covid snapshot from last year.
Key findings include:
• Airbnb is estimated to have supported a total of 26,300 jobs in New Zealand.
• The total jobs supported by Airbnb in 2019 represents $1.1b in wages paid.
• Airbnb guests spent $2.5b.
• Spending by Kiwi domestic Airbnb guests totalled $828m.
• Airbnb contributed $2.7b to GDP and was responsible for 6.4% of the contribution the tourism industry made.
Nolan said Airbnb was not a direct competitor for hotels, which in this country say they have slashed their workforce from about 20,000 to 10,000.
''Certainly we're fighting in the same space. Our experience is that people who stay in Airbnbs are looking for a different experience, a different product.''
He said his site's properties attracted families limited to travelling domestically and looking for more space and staying longer in the properties they can drive to.
In the United States, bookings in rural areas bounced back strongly in June, exceeding last year's numbers and Nolan said that because of the spread of properties throughout this country the platform could provide stimulus throughout the regions as well as the cities.
"Even in the height of the pandemic they want to experience some sort of travel and that's changed from international trips to going from (for example) Auckland to Waiheke Island for the weekend."
Airbnb hosts keep 97 per cent of the price they charge to rent their space, the company says.
Nolan said Airbnb was committed to working with the Government to find ways to make it easier for hosts to meet their tax obligations and for Inland Revenue to do its job.
"Indeed, we have been a vocal supporter of a mandatory, light-touch data sharing framework to make tax easier in New Zealand. This would provide the Government with the information it needs while also protecting privacy.
He said the company continued to ensure it was "diligently following the rules" and paying all applicable taxes in New Zealand and everywhere we do business.
Hosts in Auckland faced local council levies although these had been suspended until next year.
In a statement on the company's website from last week it says that since 2015, Airbnb has entered into more than 400 voluntary agreements with governments around the world to streamline and facilitate tax collection for hosts. In the US, almost three out of every four reservations are covered by the collection and remittance of tourism or hotel taxes.
It has no employees in New Zealand and because of Covid-19 shed a quarter of its workforce earlier this year, cutting numbers to about 6000.
The company was valued at close to $70b last year but a stock market listing this year looked sunk earlier this year as Covid struck. However, reports suggest an IPO is back on with paperwork to be filed later this month.
While Airbnb says it is keen on rules being set around short-term rental accommodation (STRA) in this country, the NZ Hotel Owners Association says that at present as there is no level playing field particularly around health and safety requirements, payment of property rates/council rates, insurance and taxes.
"Hoteliers also comply with building warrant of fitness certificates ensuing they meet the standards required for people to stay/sleep in hotels – not a requirement for Airbnb," association's executive director Amy Robens said.