Roz Altman started renting summer homes 10 years ago in Ventnor, so her entire immediate family could vacation together.
When the summer home Altman was using was sold, the 68-year-old Atlantic City native turned to the internet booking giant Airbnb to find a large Downbeach rental house on a beach block.
Through the service, Altman discovered John Murphy and his house on South Kingston Avenue in Atlantic City. She and her family have stayed at the home for the past three years. She already has it booked for two weeks each summer for the next three years.
Airbnb guest arrivals and hosting in New Jersey grew this past summer. The company recorded 140,318 guest arrivals in Atlantic, Cape May and Ocean counties this summer compared with 83,037 guest arrivals in total last summer.
Hosts in Atlantic, Cape May and Ocean counties made a total of $30.6 million over the past summer compared with $17.9 million during the same time last year, Airbnb said.
In 2012, Murphy, of Moorsetown, Burlington County, was not in the online rental business. For each of the past five years, he has added a new residence that can be rented out through Airbnb. Now, the 49-year-old has five houses, four in Atlantic City and one in Ventnor.
“I just believe consumers today are far less reliant on, ‘Hey, Mr. Broker, can you find me a house that I haven’t seen?’ A good broker, in my opinion, will just point to a website anyway,” Murphy said. “‘I know a house. Here is a website. Check it out.’”
Guests come from as far away as Ohio, California, Europe and Australia to visit Atlantic City and stay in one of Murphy’s houses. They come to celebrate personal events such as anniversaries, family reunions and birthday parties, he said.
Some families have as many as 18 members and don’t want to stay in a casino or a hotel, Murphy said.
“People are getting used to this way of traveling. They want to meet, come to the beach and enjoy a home that feels like a home for that week,” Murphy said. “I rarely get the comparison that a hotel is even a choice for them. ... A lot of people, younger people, don’t want to travel to a hotel.”
There are some significant advantages to what Airbnb is doing, according to Rummy Pandit, executive director of the Lloyd D. Levenson Institute of Gaming, Hospitality & Tourism at Stockton University in Atlantic City.
“It provides an easy option for the vacationer. Now, the vacationer doesn’t have to go looking for real estate agents. They can go straight to an Airbnb or VRBO (Vacation Rentals by Owner), or one of these sites, and they have a whole host of inventory that they can utilize,” Pandit said.
From the owners’ perspective, Airbnb allows owners to market their property fairly quickly and easily, Pandit said.
The growth of Airbnb in the state over the years has caught the attention of the state Legislature.
During the summer, the state Legislature voted to impose state sales and use taxes on Airbnb-style rentals. It also imposed hotel and motel occupancy fees and various municipal taxes and fees on what they call transient accommodations, which represents Airbnb and other online short-term rental services.
South Jersey legislators were divided on the tax on Airbnb accommodations, but they viewed its availability in the area positively.
State Sen. Chris Brown, R-Atlantic, voted against the transient accommodations tax because it will increase costs and is counterproductive, he said, adding the money is slated for the general fund and not marketing.
“In all the testimony thus far, Airbnb is growing the market in that there are additional people who are supplementing and complimenting the hotel and motel industry,” Brown said.
State Sen. Jeff Van Drew, D-Cape May, Cumberland, Atlantic, voted against the tax because it increases the burden on ratepayers and small businesses, he said. It is a new and small business, and the owners are not making a huge amount of money, Van Drew said.
“I’m looking at ways at making our tourism more productive and more competitive, and hurting Airbnbs wasn’t the answer to me,” Van Drew said.
Assemblymen Vince Mazzeo and John Armato, both D-Atlantic, were the only legislators in the South Jersey contingent to vote yes on the tax. They voted yes because 46 states have some sort of occupancy tax to which Airbnb is subject, including New York and Pennsylvania, Mazzeo said.
They voted for the tax, but they are still bullish on Airbnb and other online short-term rental services.
“It’s great to see A.C. on the rise, seeing properties being fixed up, and being owned rather than rented only benefits the city more, regardless of their winter or summer use. Airbnb is offering a different type of accommodation. Some people don’t like to stay in hotels. They want a home away from home,” Mazzeo said.