Airbnb Really Screwed Up With Ads About Paying Taxes

Airbnb Really Screwed Up With Ads About Paying Taxes

This week, Airbnb rolled out a series of ads around San Francisco to raise awareness of the $US12m or so it raises for the city through hotel taxes. Sadly, the effect was passive-aggressive — and it’s now at the receiving end of biting criticism.

The ads in question have been posted on bus shelters and billboards around San Francisco. In each case, they address a public service provider, then suggest a possible use for some of those tax dollars. Like this:

Airbnb has spent over $US8 million fighting Proposition F, which is a ballot initiative in San Francisco aiming to restrict the number of nights a person can rent out their home.

This ad campaign hasn’t sat well with San Franciscans. Perhaps the best reaction yet is an open letter from Martha Kenney, an assistant professor at San Francisco State University, who wrote:

Dear Airbnb,

I’m happy to hear that you paid your taxes this year. I did too! Isn’t it awesome? However, I’ve crunched some numbers and I have some bad news for you. Out of your $12 mil of hotel tax, only 1.4% per cent goes to the SF Public Libraries. So that’s $168,000. Divided by the 868 library staff, we have $193 per person. Assuming each employee works 5 days per week minus holidays, this is $0.78 per employee per day. Since that’s significantly under San Francisco minimum wage ($12.25/hr), I doubt that your hotel tax can keep the libraries open more than a minute or two later.

However, had you donated that $8 million you spent fighting Proposition F directly to the public libraries you love so much, that could have made a bigger difference. Oh well. Hindsight is 20/20!


Martha Kenney (San Francisco resident)

In a statement made to SF Weekly, Airbnb apologised, explaining that “the intent was to show the hotel tax contribution from our hosts and guests, which is roughly $US1m per month. It was the wrong tone and we apologise to anyone who was offended.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s now taking the ads down.

[SF Weekly]

Top image by Martha Kenney / Facebook

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