A Valley Airbnb host said she recognizes why traditional lodging owners have issues with the online marketplace and hospitality service.

Amy Hodish, who owns an Airbnb on Second Street in Lewisburg with her husband Joe Hodish, has been in the business since April 2018.

"I understand the concerns, but it gives people a choice," she said.

Hodish said she must have everything inspected, needs and occupancy permit and must go through the local government body for approval for people to stay there. It sleeps six and all linens, toiletries and a fully equipped kitchen are included in the stay, she said.

"I'm not doing it on the sly," Hodish said. "We went through the proper channels and did what we had to do."

The majority of customers are Bucknell University families, she said.

"It's close in proximity to the university and downtown. That's a big draw," Amy Hodish said. "It's very comfortable. We get a lot of families who want to be together, and it's more economical to be in a house than separate hotel rooms. They can stay together, they can cook together."

Andrew Miller, the executive director of the Susquehanna Valley Visitors Bureau, said local lodging owners are concerned with Airbnb owners.

"To me, I think it's a mixed bag," he said. "I don't personally have anything negative to say. It is a huge concern in the tourism industry. If our Airbnb hosts are not paying the taxes that other lodging establishments are required to pay, then it's not an even playing field. We hear the frustrations of those people in the field."

For example, Miller said, if a bed and breakfast owner follows the codes and zoning laws, spends money and time to bring everything up to date, but then their neighbor opens an Airbnb next door without doing the same thing, that's what is upsetting to others in the lodging industry. There is now competition from those who aren't playing by the rules, he said.

The visitor's bureau's role is to identify those Airbnb rentals who may not be playing by the rules and pass the information on to the county treasurer's office in order to ensure the proper taxes are being paid, Miller said.

"There's no way to monitor how much money (revenue) is missed because of Airbnb in the area," Miller said. "My gut is it's a surprising number."

In August, the Union County Commissioners unanimously voted to increase the hotel tax in the county from 3 to 5 percent. The hotel tax in Snyder and Northumberland County remain at 3 percent.

The commissioners estimated the new tax will generate $145,000 annually for the Union County Trail Authority — about $20,000 for maintenance costs and the remainder to build a capital fund for resurfacing costs and land acquisition and development of new trails. The decision to increase the tax was not prompted by Airbnb, according to Union County Commissioner John Showers.

"We had begun those negotiations and talks with the river bureau two years ago about expanding the hotel tax," said Showers. "The Union County treasurer's office does work diligently to add Airbnbs. We're not doing that to penalize them, we are just leveling the playing field."

The amount of revenue from the hotel tax, including that from Airbnbs, is not known at this point, he said.

Showers is a former innkeeper, having owned the Inn at New Berlin from 1993 to 2006, and is a traveler, so he said he can see the issue from both sides.

"I do think that Airbnbs are competing with other local lodgings, and why shouldn't they be paying the same taxes as other properties?" Showers said. "What's good for the others is good for those that run a low profile," he said.

Snyder County Commissioner Chairman Joe Kantz said he has been pushing for a higher hotel tax, but not because of the introduction of Airbnb. The county has many lodging options, especially along Routes 11-15, including a 70-room, four-story Fairfield Inn and Suites by Marriott being developed on property owned by the Welteroth Property Group near Sheetz along Route 11-15.

"I don't know how many (Airbnbs) we have in the county. I don't know if anybody knows that. That's part of the problem of the whole hotel tax issue: You don't really know how many exist," Kantz said. "Do they have an unfair advantage? I'd say it's very small."

Northumberland County Commissioner Sam Schiccatano said there has been no discussion about changing the hotel tax. The Hotel Edison in Sunbury is the only hotel in the county, otherwise, there are smaller bed and breakfasts and campgrounds.

Northumberland County Reporter