War of words between Airbnb and hoteliers heats up

The old adage about the best defense being a good offense might best describe Airbnb’s new attack on Marriott International and the hotel industry.

CNBC on Monday obtained a copy of a letter sent by Airbnb’s head of public policy to Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson, asking him to explain why the hotel industry takes billions of dollars from taxpayers to subsidize hotel construction and operation, price-gouges customers, depresses wages and replaces workers with robots. The same letter also questioned Marriott’s security policies, suggesting Airbnb runs background checks on its U.S.-based hosts and guests and uses technology to measure potential risk, and wondering if Marriott does the same.

This news comes after Sorenson gave an interview to Fortune and was asked if Airbnb had become more willing to make concessions or cooperate with regulators. “I don’t know that I see that they’re more willing to concede,” Sorenson answered. “They’re spending a lot of money on government affairs and they’re playing pretty aggressive. I’ve had letters from Airbnb directly, demanding my response about some charge, I don’t even know what it is, within hours. That’s pretty aggressive, and I’m not going to respond to that.”

This latest salvo in the ongoing battle between the home-sharing leader and the hotel industry comes as the American Hotel & Lodging Association and some local and national hoteliers continually turn up the heat with governmental bodies claiming Airbnb does not pay its fair share of taxes, doesn’t have to live up to public safety and security measures and has a negative impact on the availability of reasonably priced housing.

Later on Tuesday afternoon, the AH&LA sent a response to what it called Airbnb’s latest PR stunt and attack on city officials across the country:

“Airbnb’s attack on city officials and the hotel industry for working together to support local jobs and economic development is downright shameful and a pathetic attempt to hide from their own lack of transparency and accountability in their shady ‘voluntary’ tax deals.

“Since 2008, the hotel industry has contributed over US$1 trillion in taxes and supported nearly US$10 trillion to the U.S. economy and currently supports more than 8 million jobs across the country. Compared to the initial public investment or incentive programs, these partnerships have generated an unprecedented return in investment and a great deal for taxpayers and local communities.

“Airbnb, on the other hand, has been making back-room deals and strong-arming state and local jurisdictions into ‘voluntary’ tax deals with no transparency, oversight, or auditing capability to ensure the company pays its proper share of taxes. It’s like putting an empty jar at the counter of a retail store and asking customers to voluntarily pay sales taxes. There’s no accountability.

“This is a sad attempt to deflect the intense pressure Airbnb has been under from city mayors and jurisdictions across the U.S. to regulate their illegal commercial hoteling schemes, lack of taxation and avoidance of common sense safety measures.”

Expect more punches to be thrown in this hospitality heavyweight fight.