By Thomas J. Grech
On his hit show, “Parts Unknown,” famed chef and New York City native Anthony Bourdain has taken millions of viewers around the world in search of the most eclectic, inventive cuisine.
While Bourdain has ventured from Myanmar to Morocco, and from Congo to Copenhagen, the truth is that one of the most vibrant food communities in the world is right in his own backyard: Queens.
Indeed, earlier this summer, Bourdain dedicated an entire episode of “Parts Unknown” to the World’s Borough. From a thriving Chinese dumpling shop in Flushing and a popular Mexican tamale stand on Junction Boulevard to an Ecuadorian street cart in Corona, and many more local favorites, the show made one thing abundantly clear: Our small businesses are a destination unto themselves.
While Bourdain shined a spotlight on our tapestry of neighborhoods that the Guinness Book of World Records has described as the most diverse in the world, the sad truth is that Queens has traditionally taken a backseat to the tourist sites of Manhattan and the hipster-darling that is Brooklyn.
Luckily, this tradition is starting to change, as more travelers from every corner of the globe look to experience the authenticity that accompanies a borough with more languages, customs and ideas than any other place on the planet. Here in Queens, our diverse neighborhoods and vibrant communities are the attraction, and as a result, they are bringing more tourists and tourist dollars to our borough.
The sharing economy in general — and home sharing in particular — has played a key role in the surge of tourism in Queens. In a borough that has historically been ignored by the big hotel chains, home sharing platforms like Airbnb are allowing travelers to stay in the heart of our communities, with local hosts that are proud to showcase their favorite restaurants, shops and secret gems.
The numbers don’t lie. In 2016, over 150,000 visitors stayed in Queens on Airbnb, a 50 percent increase from 2015. Instead of hotels in Midtown, these travelers opted to stay with the over 3,000 Queens hosts. In turn, our host community earned over $27 million in supplemental income, with the typical Queens host earning $4,900, annually.
In addition, Airbnb travelers tend to stay longer and spend locally, bringing even more money into local small businesses and neighborhoods. Last year, 44 percent of Airbnb guests in the city said that they could not have visited, or would not have stayed as long, without Airbnb. Moreover, guests spent over $200 per day during their trip, with one-third of that spending occurring in the neighborhood where they stayed.
Despite this overwhelming positive impact of home sharing, New York state law imposes Draconian fines of up to $7,500 on hosts for the simple act of sharing their home with visitors from around the world. Unlike more sensible regulations in global cities like London and Milan, and nearby cities like Philadelphia and Jersey City, the law here does nothing to distinguish between responsible hosts who occasionally share their own home and bad actors who remove permanent housing from the rental market.
That could change if the state Legislature adopts a bill introduced by Assemblyman Joe Lentol. His bill, A7520, would amend the Multiple Dwelling Law to allow for responsible home sharing in all five boroughs, giving more Queens families a new way to earn some extra money, and preventing illegal hotels from exacerbating the housing crisis.
In addition to limiting hosts to sharing a single home in the city — a policy that Airbnb already voluntarily imposes on its platform — the bill would also extend hotel taxes to home sharing, pumping over $90 million into city and state budgets to support core services. Moreover, the bill would protect public safety by requiring hosts to register with the state, mandating that all hosts have insurance, and ensuring that platforms like Airbnb provide a 24/7 hotline for hosts, guests and neighbors to report any disruptive activity.
New York can and should nurture the growth of the sharing economy, while preserving permanent housing and our quality of life.
“On Parts Unknown,” Bourdain said, “the whole world is in Queens, and like the world as a whole, it is constantly changing.” Let’s tell Albany to join the rest of the world in embracing the sharing economy.
Thomas J. Grech
Queens Chamber of Commerce