Keep your friends close and your enemies closer, the proverbial saying goes. But rarely has this advice been taken so literally as in Airbnb's latest marketing effort, aimed at New York City mayor-elect Bill de Blasio, an opponent of the short-term rental concept that drives Airbnb's business model.
In a video uploaded to Airbnb's YouTube channel, a handful of New York City renters invite de Blasio's friends and family into their homes for the incoming mayor's "big day," his impending inauguration on January 1. "Gracie Mansion must be fully booked," reasons one host in the video, referring to the mayoral residence.
The playful invitation serves as a way of confronting, without antagonism, someone who could make or break Airbnb in New York, one of the apartment-rental service's largest markets. De Blasio is a friend to the organized labor factions, namely hotel unions, that oppose Airbnb. He has publicly voiced support for the short-term rental laws that forbid Airbnb hosts from renting out their homes in their own absence.
Airbnb did win a victory in September, when an appeals board overturned an earlier ruling that would have levied a $2,400 fine -- reduced from an original $40,000 -- against an East Village man who rented out his apartment through Airbnb's site. The ruling found the man, Nigel Warren, not guilty of violating city laws. "The sharing economy is here to stay, and so are we," David Hantman, Airbnb's head of public policy, wrote on the company's blog after the decision.
But that decision went in Airbnb's favor only because Warren had been present during the entire period of his renter's three-day stay. Many Airbnb hosts use the site to rent out their homes during vacations or other trips, earning money in absentia -- an activity which is still illegal in New York.
In November, New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman's office issued a subpoena to Airbnb, demanding that the company turn over information on its users. Airbnb has petitioned to have the subpoena set aside.
Airbnb's video cuts through the contentious legal battle to address Bill de Blasio directly. After congratulating the mayor-elect on his win, the hosts featured in the video make a case for the value of Airbnb as a way of introducing people to New York and giving them an authentic, "local" experience. "Our guests spend their time and their money in diverse communities across the city," says one host.
And the invitation extends not only to de Blasio's nearest and dearest but to the new mayor himself. "Mr. Mayor, if you're ever in Hamilton Heights, you're always welcome to stay with me," another host says.