Suzanne Stewart
Staff Writer

There are several web-based businesses which focus on booking vacations and lodging, including Trivago, Travelocity and Airbnb. The later began as a site for individuals to use to rent a room or their homes to visitors as a way to supplement their income.

Now, Airbnb has grown to include listings for hotels, motels, condos, cabins and much more. With that growth has come an increase in revenue for Pocahontas County, which gained $1.7 million in 2018 from bookings made through Airbnb.com
Pocahontas County Convention and Visitors Bureau Executive Director Cara Rose said she was pleasantly surprised to see the amount of revenue Pocahontas County received from Airbnb bookings.

“There are millions of rentals available around the world on Airbnb, and it’s becoming a very popular way for travelers to book lodging when they visit destinations,” Rose said. “Airbnb released figures for West Virginia’s 2018 revenue and guest check-ins, and it shocked me. Ten million dollars in revenue was generated to hosts in West Virginia. Seventeen percent of that revenue came to Pocahontas County. That was the largest amount for any county in the state of West Virginia.”

Rose said that with the platform expanding to include establishments as well as private homes, the county will surely continue to see an increase in revenue, which includes hotel/motel tax.

While a lot of lodging establishments use their own websites or local real estate agencies to advertise their listings, there are several who are turning to online platforms to increase visitor traffic.

Rose used Snowshoe Mountain Resort as an example to explain how property owners rent out their condos or homes.

“The way it works is, almost all lodging at Snowshoe Mountain Resort is privately owned,” she said. “Snowshoe does own a few units like the Inn at Snowshoe, for instance, but the vast majority of lodging is privately owned. That individual property owner has the opportunity to contract with a rental agency at the resort. It could be Snowshoe Mountain Resort, but there are also other agencies that rent units.

“If you are a property owner, you can also choose not to go with one of those contracted services and rent yourself,” she continued. “If you rent yourself, you can do that through a variety of platforms. You can use VRBO [Vacation Rentals by Owners]. You can place an ad. You can get on Airbnb. You can do all of the above, basically.”

Rose said that the same rules apply concerning state and local taxes when renting on Airbnb or another online platform.
“With Airbnb, it’s not explicit in the platform that those taxes are being collected and remitted, but if you read the fine print, Airbnb does expect their hosts to follow all state and local guidelines, so here in Pocahontas County, for instance, an individual would require a business license, they would also have to collect and submit state sales tax out of their revenue as well as the local hotel/motel tax,” she said.

For those who worry about renting a room or house online, Airbnb has a review process for both the rentee and the renter. Most places only give the rentee the ability to rate a place and share stories about their stay, but Airbnb also has a place for renters to rate and share stories about the rentees.

“It keeps you honest because not only can the person renting the unit give a review – and they do – the host can also review the renter,” Rose said. “That means that essentially, if you have a renter that gives you a bad review, but the renter left the place in a disaster or had pets when they weren’t supposed to, you can actually give them a review. So the next time that renter goes to rent a unit – someplace in California for that matter – the host has the ability to see what other hosts have said about the person.”

Airbnb is another way to not only help individuals discover Pocahontas County, but to help bring more revenue to Pocahontas County and its public services.

“It’s very, very influential and has the potential of generating around ninety-thousand dollars in hotel/motel tax annually, based on the numbers,” Rose said. “That number’s going to grow. That is very significant.”

Suzanne Stewart may be contacted at sastewart@pocahontastimes.com