Airbnb grows Florida's tourism industry

PANAMA CITY, Fla. (WJHG/WECP)- Home-sharing is a growing trend as an alternative to hotels and condos when traveling on vacation and is bringing in big money to Florida.

Melana Weems never thought she'd be a "bed and breakfast" host.

"It's wonderful. I have people from all over the world that are coming to stay," says Weems.

Weems takes part in Airbnb, a home-sharing service which allows people to experience a different side of a city they're visiting.

"You can have a bonus room that just has a pullout couch someone can stay in, you can have a private room that has it's own bath or you can rent them your entire property," Weems explains.

"Internet spawns businesses with people trying to make a little bit on the side," said Panama City Mayor Mike Thomas.

According to a press release from Airbnb, the company claims to bring 1.5 million people and $273 million of revenue into Florida.

Airbnb Florida policy director Tom Martinelli said: “We are so proud that Airbnb has emerged as a powerful component of Florida’s thriving tourism industry. Home sharing is an economic driver to cities and neighborhoods in Florida that typically get overlooked due to the lack of hotels. Meanwhile, the infusion of new revenue to state and county coffers is helping local policymakers fund critical local services.”

"It will be extra revenue, both for the individuals in the community and for the city, county and TDC. We'll all make money," says Thomas.

The company says the industry brought $4.9 million to Bay County only for 2016. And that doesn't include the additonal $3.4 million generated between Okaloosa, Gulf and Franklin counties as well.

Governor Rick Scott said, “It is great news that Airbnb and the home sharing community are helping more families experience the Sunshine State. During challenging times in our state this year, Airbnb offered emergency accommodations to many families in need following the Orlando terrorist attack and Hurricane Matthew. We truly appreciate when businesses like Airbnb help Floridians in need. We recently announced that Florida welcomed a record number of visitors during first nine months of 2016 and tourism plays a crucial role in supporting our economy. We will continue to work closely with our many tourism partners like Airbnb to bring record numbers of visitors to our state.”

Weems says although she hasn't seen a huge profit from her side business so far, she is hopeful for the future.

"I wouldn't say a great deal but it helped and it sounds like its gonna grow once it gets to rolling and it starts rolling pretty good," Weems added.

Airbnb says it operates in 191 countries and has 200 million listings worldwide.

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County by county breakdown of total supplemental income earned by Airbnb hosts in Florida (for counties with total income over $100,000):

County: Total 2016 Host Income-
Miami-Dade: $113 Million
Broward: $28 Million
Osceola: $18.3 Million
Orange: $14.3 Million
Pinellas: $12.3 Million
Palm Beach: $9.5 Million
Monroe: $8.5 Million
Lee: $6.7 Million
Sarasota: $6.7 Million
Hillsborough: $5.1 Million
Bay: $4.9 Million
Saint Johns: $4.9 Million
Polk: $4.8 Million
Collier: $4 Million
Volusia: $4 Million
Walton: $3.3 Million
Brevard: $3.3 Million
Okaloosa: $2.9 Million
Duval: $2.9 Million
Manatee: $2.8 Million
Escambia: $1.8 Million
Lake: $1.5 Million
Alachua: $1.5 Million
Leon: $933,000
Charlotte: $807,000
St. Lucie: $727,000
Pasco: $712,000
Santa Rosa: $683,000
Flagler: $661,000
Nassau: $634,000
Indian River: $594,000
Seminole: $583,000
Martin: $539,000
Citrus: $320,000
Gulf: $285,000
Marion: $272,000
Franklin: $264,000
Hernando: $253,000
Sumter: $224,000
Levy: $124,000