Business & Economy

Thousands headed for Airbnb global conference in DTLA

A picture shows the logo of online lodging service Airbnb displayed on a computer screen in the Airbnb offices in Paris on April 21, 2015.
A picture shows the logo of online lodging service Airbnb displayed on a computer screen in the Airbnb offices in Paris on April 21, 2015.

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Thousands of Airbnb hosts from 100 countries are headed to the company's annual conference kicking off Thursday in Los Angeles, one of Airbnb's most important markets.

Controversy has been brewing ahead of the three-day Airbnb Open, given the ongoing debate in L.A. over the scope of short-term rentals in the city. Housing advocates say too many homes and apartments are being used to accommodate tourists, which leaves long-term residents fewer rental options.

Airbnb expects a daily attendance upwards of 7,000 for their third annual conference. The 2015 edition in Paris was cut short by the terrorist attacks.

While the conference hosts events with celebrities such as Gwyneth Paltrow and Ashton Kutcher, dozens of community activists say they will be outside, handing out fliers and talking to hosts. They want to put the heat on people who offer large swaths of apartments on Airbnb – housing they say could help relieve the tight rental market in one of the country's least affordable cities.

"We think it’s fine for people to share their own homes," said James Elmendorf, a senior policy analyst for the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy. "What we want to stop is the corporatization of what is supposedly sharing."

Elmendorf said a LAANE analysis shows that about 90 percent of the revenue Airbnb generates in Los Angeles comes from companies or individuals who are renting out multiple units on Airbnb, what's tantamount to "ad hoc hotels."

Airbnb often counters that it helps make housing more affordable because lower-to-middle-income hosts often use their earnings to pay down mortgages. But one top company official said he understood the frustrations that housing advocates have about "illegal hotels."

Chip Conley, ‎head of global hospitality & strategy, said Airbnb is eager to work with Los Angeles as it follows the lead of other cities and crafts new regulations on short-term rentals and cracks down on bad players.

"What's good about Los Angeles is Los Angeles has been doing enough research about this and there's nothing reactive," Conley said.

A draft ordinance on short-term rentals  is expected to go before at least one of the city council's committees in December, said Ken Bernstein, principal city planner for Los Angeles.

Whatever the council decides will have a major impact on Airbnb. Conley said that Los Angeles is its second largest U.S. market after New York, and often ranks in the top five for international markets.

Correction: A previous version of the story included incorrect information from Airbnb on expected attendance for Saturday's event. KPCC regrets the error.

This story has been updated.