Leaked documents from an American Hotel and Lodging Association board meeting surfaced in April, disclosing a national campaign intended to stunt the growth of the short-term rental industry. Miami was highlighted as a critical market, as it is one of the top cities in the U.S. where Airbnb is flourishing.
Also mentioned in the five-page document was Florida International University, as one of four universities in the country working on research the association planned to use in its anti-Airbnb campaign. According to the memo, FIU’s research on safety and security in the hospitality industry would “support our fundamental argument about the harms that short-term rental companies pose to consumers and communities, and provide data to buttress testimonial campaign.”
Meanwhile, Airbnb was working on a campaign of its own, funding a watchdog blog, the Checks and Balances Project, beginning in October 2016 to investigate the hotel industry’s campaign against home sharing (Airbnb would not say how much it gives the blog in funding). “New documents raise question of what role hotel lobby’s chair played in Penn State pay-to-play scheme,” a recent blog entry headline reads, referring to a pair of Pennsylvania State University studies funded by the hotel association about the growth of full-time short-term rental operators.
Most recently, the Checks and Balances Project turned its focus to the other schools on the hotel association’s list — Rutgers University, the University of North Carolina and FIU — requesting information on their proposed studies.
At FIU, the result was a public document containing the executive summary for assistant director Eric Beckman’s upcoming short-term rental research, funded via a grant from the American Hotel & Lodging Education Foundation for $68,209.50.
How could the university’s research be unbiased when it was paid for by the hotel industry, the blog questioned when it approached the Herald about its own findings. What the watchdog group didn’t say: its own research was paid for by the home sharing industry.