Airbnb reports Adirondacks hosts are reaping record profits

Chart by Melissa Hart, using information provided by Airbnb.

Hotel stays remain an important part of the overall market; data shows visitors stay longer

By Stephen Leon

Airbnb announced numbers earlier this month that pointed to a spike in visits to the Adirondacks, something many locals had already observed anecdotally since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the nine-month period from January 1 to September 30, 2021, Airbnb hosts in the Adirondacks received $52.8 million in revenue, a 151% increase over the same two-year period over early. That year, 2019, host revenue in the region was $21 million.

Airbnb, an online marketplace for vacation rentals and tourism, posted record numbers in nearly every area, though national revenue totals don’t appear as robust as those in the Adirondacks. A company representative offered only a third-quarter comparison of national totals for the same two years: In the third quarter of 2021, Airbnb hosts earned record rental income of $12.8 billion, in 27% increase compared to the same quarter of 2019.

Among Adirondacks data, Essex County led the way with $20 million in 2021, up 122% from $9 million in 2019. Hamilton County saw the largest percentage increase by 188%, with $2.2 million in revenue in 2021, compared to $787,000 in 2019.

The Airbnb report suggests an overall tourism boom and a shift in market share from traditional rentals like hotels, motels, guesthouses and B&Bs to short-term rentals (STRs), including Airbnb and other sites such as VRBO. Data from Adirondacks tourism professionals also shows that traditional accommodations — hotels and motels — remain strong.

Take an opportunity

Mary Bartel owns the Inner Quest yoga and wellness center on Broadway in Saranac Lake, in a building that also houses her home. At first, she had other practitioners using the studio; as they retired, “I found it difficult to find other practitioners.” Someone suggested short-term rentals, so Bartel cut out two small, space-efficient apartments. She rents them to one or two people each; they have separate entrances, with parking in the parking lot behind his building. Her rentals are registered and she pays council tax to Franklin County.

“I have the perfect location for short-term rentals: right on Main Street, within walking distance of downtown,” Bartel said.

In 2020, she had to close it for a few months, but business still increased compared to 2019.

Then, in 2021: “Oh my god, it was crazy last year.” Bartel said that in the summer there are reservations just about every day. Out of season, she still had reservations for generally quiet months. It raised its rates slightly, mainly to cover additional cleaning supplies.

Showing the Airbnb ADK Love: Outdoor enthusiast Lincoln Riddle created his own Adirondacks version of this Airbnb promotional video.

Hotels remain strong

According to Jim McKenna, CEO of the Regional Office for Sustainable Tourism (ROOST), STR occupancy tax collections in Essex County have increased by 95% from 2019 to 2020 (most from June to December), and 43% from 2020 to 2021. This surge in the tourist tax corresponds to the growth of Airbnb’s figures.

Hotel and motel occupancy tax collections increased 25% over the two-year period, “still a historic increase,” McKenna said.

Katie Wojdyla and her sister Kelly Greene are co-owners of Old Forge Enchanted Forest Water Safari, Calypso’s Cove Family Fun Park, Old Forge Camping Resort and Water’s Edge Inn. After a difficult 2000 where they were unable to open the Water Safari, business in 2021 has been “solid”, Wojdyla said, including at the hotel. “There is still this clientele that is looking for the conveniences of a hotel” (breakfast, indoor swimming pool, etc.), she says. “So we haven’t seen an effect” from the growth in short-term rentals.

Longer stays, large groups

Tourism officials have noted more midweek bookings and more visitors during months that are not considered high season. In 2020 and 2021, McKenna said, people visited for longer periods and in larger groups. “We are also seeing that the average age of short-term renters is younger.”

In Essex County in 2019, the average length of stay in STRs was 4.8 days; in 2020, it doubled to 10 days. The average party size in 2019 was 5.0; in 2020 it was 6.9.

Longer stays, younger renters and expanding seasons speak to what some see as a key part of the rental boom: the ability to work from home or from a vacation home.

Twiggy Collen, an Albany resident who owns a second home in Chestertown, said she has received double the number of inquiries about her Chestertown home since the pandemic began. Her family uses her about half the year and rents her out to visitors the other half, using adkbyowner.com.

She said the priority for potential tenants is connectivity. “They would like the ability to work remotely,” she said.

Rising tensions

Not everyone agrees with the growth of STRs. In some communities, residents fear losing their neighborhoods to transients and amidst a reduced supply of housing for people who live and work here.

“There’s a tremendous amount of anger directed at people doing short-term rentals,” Collen said.

Katelyn Moskos, owner of Northern Living NY, a short-term rental company in Lake George, pushes back against anti-STR sentiment. Moskos is the founder of Hands off Our Homes, a group fighting against proposed STR laws in Queensbury and Fort Ann, where she lives. Moskos’ main objection is that the proposed laws are unfair and impose strict regulations on rental properties that do not apply to owner-occupied homes. She compares a rental that would be subject to limitations on the number of guests, the number of cars in the driveway and a noise ordinance at 10 p.m., to a similar property that is owner-occupied and only faces none of these restrictions.

“We have a very strict tenancy agreement,” Moskos said. “We don’t have a direct booking. … It is very clear that Northern Living has been targeted.

Additionally, she pointed out that “we employ over 50 people, and they’re all locals.”

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