Brent Batten: Affordable vacation lodging costs Naples beaches in lost tax revenue
Naples ranked sixth on TripAdvisor’s "Top Value Cities for an Epic Group Getaway" list. Vonna Keomanyvong via Wochit
Naples is among the most affordable cities to find a place.
That surprising bit of information comes from TripAdvisor, which came up with a list of “Top Value Cities for an Epic Group Getaway.”
It comes with plenty of caveats, so don’t get your hopes up, you advocates for affordable housing in Collier County.
But the finding that the median price for a three-bedroom rental of $1,376 a week in the spring is among the lowest when it comes to desirable destinations helps to illustrate the changing nature of tourism.
Three-bedroom rentals aren’t the norm at most hotels, where we commonly assume tourists stay.
But houses, that’s another matter.
Increasingly, the Internet is being used as a direct link between prospective renters and property owners looking for revenue.
That puts tourists in what have traditionally been single-family homes and allows an easy bypass of the usual collectors of the county’s 4 percent tax on short-term lodgings — hotels and rental agents.
Outfits like Airbnb have agreements in some places to collect and remit the tax to the government. But as of now, Collier County has not struck such an agreement.
Individuals owning the homes might pay the tax to the county, or they might not.
They might abide by the rules in place for their neighborhood, or they might not.
Those uncertainties further complicate the already thorny questions of tourist tax spending and beach renourishment the county is wrestling with.
What if more tourists are coming, but their numbers are masked by their use of nontraditional lodgings?
Statistics suggest that’s taking place.
Tourist tax collections overall are down 3 percent this year compared with the same time last year, according to the Collier County Tax Collector’s Office.
Collections from hotels are off just under 1 percent. Collections from Realtors are down almost 12 percent, and collections from individuals are up more than 8 percent.
Altogether it amounts to a $348,000 drop from a year ago
If the number of tourists is masked by their use of online bookings, it could equate to more people using the beach but less money coming in to care for it.
Local governments — including Collier County, Naples and Marco Island — are all trying to find ways to monitor the changes to the short-term rental landscape brought on by the Internet and lodging specialists based there.
Naples allows residents to rent the units up to three times a year for no more than two weeks at a time. Residents aren’t allowed to advertise units for rent, but policing it is difficult, said City Code Enforcement Director Roger Jacobsen.
Simply doing web searches for Naples properties to rent can help, but the landlords are adapting, he said.
“Do we get them all? No. It’s such a hot item right now," Jacobsen said.
"One thing, they don’t list the address," he said. "How are you going to find that house? I guess if they get an email that ends with naplesgov.com, they’re not going to respond to it.”
Marco Island went through a yearlong process to craft an ordinance that required property owners who rented out units to register with the city and post information — including the city’s noise ordinance — where renters can see it.
But the ordinance was repealed months after its approval, and the island now has no specific ordinance on short-term rentals.
In the unincorporated county, rules for rentals vary by neighborhood zoning, County Attorney Jeff Klatzkow said.
Generally speaking, short-term rentals in residential areas aren’t allowed, but the county’s approach to enforcement is passive, he said.
“Someone would have to complain. (Complaints) are exceedingly rare," Klatzkow said. "If someone is renting out a home and there is no problem, we don’t particularly care.
“The tax collector may care,” he added.
Tax Collector Larry Ray said negotiations are ongoing with Airbnb to get the company to collect the tax and remit it to the county.
But ultimately, he said, it is up to the property owner to pay the tax.
“Airbnb owes no tax,” Ray said.
The sticking point remains the company’s desire to keep the names of its clients confidential, he said.
He said the county needs some means of linking specific properties to the tax payments, something it requires when Realtors rent properties for short periods, he said.
Next week, the Collier County Tourist Development Council will consider a reallocation of the tourist tax, with an eye toward directing a higher percentage to beaches.
Hoteliers in the past have opposed reducing the portion spent on advertising.
But on Tuesday, Ed Staros, managing director of The Ritz-Carlton, indicated a willingness to consider allocating a greater portion — 60 percent, as opposed to the present 41 percent — for beaches.
The amount spent on tourism promotion would fall from 47 percent to 40 percent under that scenario.
But hoteliers probably calculate the adjustment is better than another idea on the table:raising the 4 percent tax to 5 percent, with the additional money all going to build a sports complex.
Just as online shopping has hurt bricks-and-mortar retailers, and ride-sharing services such as Uber have hurt traditional cabs, online lodging sites threaten traditional hotels.
And the accompanying difficulty in collection of the tourist tax portends poorly for beaches just as the county looks for ways to add more sand, more often to protect its chief economic draw.
Being a top value isn’t necessarily all it’s cracked up to be.
Connect with Brent Batten at email@example.com, on Twitter@NDN_BrentBatten and at facebook.com/ndnbrentbatten.