By John Vogan & Justine Chun
When Lisa Carrier-Titti and her wife Nicole decided to open their spare room to guests, they were not expecting a cultural experience.
“We met women from Israel, who just heard about Ithaca in an article and they wanted to come,” Carrier-Titti said. “One of the women was kosher and conservative…we made sure that we had all products here that were kosher, and she wasn’t allowed to use any electricity from sundown Friday to Saturday, so we were able to come in and turn the lights…and coffee pot on for her. That’s not something I had ever experienced before.”
Carrier-Titti is not the only resident in Ithaca to open her home to visitors. She began listing in June after a friend told her about Airbnb, a website that lets people find accommodations around the world. More than 150 properties are listed in the greater Ithaca area.
The website was founded in August 2008 and markets itself as a trusted community marketplace for people to list, discover and book unique accommodations. With over 8 million users, Airbnb has accommodations in more than 33 thousand cities and 192 countries worldwide. The site is a way for people to find a room, apartment, or even just a couch to sleep on while traveling.
Carrier-Titti believes some listings on Airbnb have qualities that traditional bed and breakfasts don’t always offer.
“There is a niche to be filled, where some people aren’t looking for the kitschy, lacey Victorian home,” she explained. “The people that find us, they want something that’s downtown, they want something that’s walkable, on the bus route, they want something that’s a little bit private.”
Airbnb users can also review the places they stay following the reservation. Comforts of Home has a 5-star average rating across 25 reviews. One response from “Patricia” of Vermont said: “Lisa & Nicole have designed this space to absolutely maximize both elegance and functionality…with charm and verve.”
Jennifer Dotson, an Airbnb enthusiast, has found the site to be very reliable. Dotson serves on the first board for the City of Ithaca common council and finds herself frequently traveling to other cities to attend conferences.
“I’d rather save a little money and stay at a place where I might get to know someone local,” Dotson said.
With Airbnb offering a range of price points for accommodations – as cheap as $30 per night for a room to $1079 for an entire 14-room house – the question of occupancy tax has come up. Tompkins County imposes a three percent county occupancy, or room, tax. Registered accommodations collect this and submit it to the county on a quarterly schedule. The county is now asking all unregistered accommodations to pay the tax.
Lynette Scofield, Innkeeper of the William Henry Miller Inn in Ithaca, believes that the unregistered Airbnb hosts should contribute through such a tax.
“The room tax does so much for this area as far as beautification, signage, new programs, that the tax dollars that our guests pay and write a check for makes such a difference in the community,” said Scofield.
But not everyone in Ithaca supports Airbnb. De Murphy, the president of Bed & Breakfast Association of Greater Ithaca (BBGI), who declined to speak with Ithaca Week, was quoted in the Ithaca Times saying that: “Travelers have no idea what they are getting into [when they book rooms using Airbnb]. I’ve heard horror stories from guests. They thought they were getting a room and they got a couch, or the place was just dirty.”
For people like Carrier-Titti and her wife, who do pay the three percent room tax, Airbnb is a way to offer guests a nice place to stay while also making a little extra money for retirement.
“Airbnb has been very accommodating to us as hosts,” Carrier-Titti said. “They helped us set up a site, they help us with payment systems…very easy to do.”