With single digit temperatures and subzero wind chills blanketing the state, it’s difficult this time of year to envision Wisconsin as a tourism hot spot.
But that is indeed the case and one of the hottest sections of our hot spot in the past year has been in the cottage industry that has sprung up around state residents renting out their homes and apartments to guests through Airbnb.
The online travel lodging network said last month that state hosts took in more than 200,000 guests last year — an increase of 97 percent.
Almost half of those rentals came during the peak tourism summer months, but Airbnb said Packers and Badger games — along with Milwaukee’s Summerfest — are some of the big draws for state visitors.
The lodging network said Wisconsin now has 4,000 hosts statewide with Milwaukee and Madison accounting for almost a third of the Airbnb guests, followed by Wisconsin Dells with 6,730 guests, Green Bay with 6,520 and Lake Geneva with 4,580, according to news reports.
For the hosts that has translated to a hefty on-the-side payday. During the three months of July, August and September, Airbnb visitors dropped $12.3 million into the pockets of Wisconsin hosts — and that, too, was almost double the rate for 2016.
On average, according to Airbnb, Wisconsin hosts typically earned about $6,300 from renting out rooms.
That’s not to say the fledgling rental network still doesn’t draw criticism from hoteliers and others who chafe over the fact that Airbnb hosts have avoided paying room taxes levied by cities, towns and villages.
But there is some tax revenue flowing to the state. Under and agreement last June, Airbnb began collecting and paying state-administered taxes on lodging for the first time. It also agreed to collect special local taxes like the Miller Park stadium tax. For the peak tourist season those state-administered taxes generated about $546,000 for Wisconsin’s treasury.
There may still be some rough edges when it comes to regulating the upstart home-rental business, but the rise in usage is testament not only to the demand, but to Wisconsin’s reputation as a tourism destination spot.