Airbnb

Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky delivers a keynote address at the company's 2016 conference. The night before the Aug.  21 eclipse is expected to be the online lodging platform's biggest ever in Wyoming.

Courtesy Airbnb

Several Wyoming towns will experience a 7,000 percent increase in the number of visitors using the online lodging platform Airbnb during the total solar eclipse next week, and thanks to a new tax agreement, the state is finally in position to reap some of the benefit.

Airbnb and similar companies allow individuals to rent part or all of their own homes online to travelers who might otherwise stay in a hotel. Until this month, Airbnb hosts in Wyoming were expected to collect lodging taxes and remit those funds to the state individually.

State Department of Revenue Director Dan Noble said that never really happened.

“Very rarely is the way I would put it,” Noble said. “I can’t say never.”

About a year ago, Noble said that his department approached Airbnb about collecting lodging taxes on behalf of its users and turning that money over to the state on a regular basis. But on Aug. 1, Airbnb began collecting lodging taxes, which range from 4 percent to 8 percent of the total room cost depending on the county.

Starting the tax agreement before the eclipse, which is expected to draw tens of thousands of visitors to Wyoming in the days leading up to the Aug. 21 event, will ensure the state and local governments, which also levy lodging taxes, are able to capitalize on the additional visitors.

“For many families, this will be first time experiencing a solar eclipse together, and possibly even using Airbnb for the first time as well,” Marisa Moret, the company’s public policy manager, said in a statement.

Eighty-three percent of those renting their homes on Airbnb during the eclipse are first-time users.

While Airbnb is expecting a 754 percent increase in overnight stays immediately prior to the eclipse across Wyoming, several cities in the line of the eclipse will experience a far larger increase.

Casper will see a 7,000 percent increase and Riverton can anticipate a 7,700 percent boost. Cities like Jackson and Wilson, already popular tourist destinations, will see a more modest uptick of 115 percent and 70 percent, respectively. The increases are measured from the previous week.

To put the increases in hard numbers, Casper has hosted just 601 Airbnb visitors during all of this year, but with hotels near capacity, the Oil City will see 1,150 people using Airbnb during the eclipse.

According to numbers provided by the company, hosts across Wyoming who are in the path of the eclipse will receive a total of $1 million in revenue from guests on the night of Aug. 20. That is compared with a total of $3.96 million earned by Wyoming users in 2016.

Noble said the tax remittance agreement wasn’t intentionally timed to start prior to the eclipse but that it is a nice bonus.

“This is when it came to a head, but obviously we want to make sure we’re receiving as much of that eclipse revenue as possible,” Noble said.

He said that while the specific amount of taxes collected from a company or individual is confidential, lodging tax revenue from Airbnb stays will be “not trivial.”

Part of the impetus for negotiating the agreement with Airbnb was to ensure that visitors who used Airbnb rather than staying in a traditional hotel weren’t dodging taxes and thus putting hotels, which have long been required to collect lodging taxes, at a competitive disadvantage.

The 12-month timeline to finalize the agreement was due in part to a disagreement between the state of Airbnb over whether the company was legally mandated to collect taxes on behalf of users, Noble said.

“Had we not reached this agreement we probably would have ended up in court,” he said. “And that’s not where you want to end up.”

Moret said in a statement that the company was interested in helping users pay the appropriate taxes.

“These partnerships can take time to develop and implement,” she said.

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Star-Tribune reporter Arno Rosenfeld covers local government, with a focus on Casper and Natrona County.

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