AIrbnb is far from lacking customers in tourism-friendly Florida — but the company soon could be in the Sunshine State’s crosshairs.
Florida’s newly inaugurated Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Tuesday that the popular short-term lodging service may be essentially blacklisted from the state.
The governor’s action is a reaction to the San Francisco-based company’s policy to exclude Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank from their listed offerings. State law prohibits Florida from doing business with companies that boycott Israel.
“We have a moral obligation to oppose the Airbnb policy. It does target Jews specifically,” DeSantis said. “I think that is wrong.”
The State Board of Administration has been tasked with determining by the end of the month if Airbnb qualifies as a company that engages in discrimination toward Israel. If so, the state would follow through with sanctions, the governor said.
In the meantime, state employees are banned from using Airbnb for reimbursable work-related travel and lodging, the Republican governor said.
DeSantis made his announcement at a podium surrounded by Jewish politicians, community leaders and rabbis at the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County in Boca Raton.
Efforts to boycott, divest and sanction the state of Israel would not happen on his watch, DeSantis said: “BDS is nothing more than a cloak for anti-Semitism, and as long as I’m Governor, BDS will be DOA.”
DeSantis did not expand on what specific sanctions might be imposed.
Airbnb’s decision late last year, under pressure from Palestinian officials, anti-settlement advocates and human rights groups, prompted uproar, accusations of anti-Semitism and lawsuits. The company in November announced that it would de-list approximately 200 properties in Israeli settlements in the disputed West Bank.
“Airbnb has unequivocally rejected the [boycott, divestment and sanctions] movement and we remain deeply committed to our more than 20,000 hosts in Israel,” Airbnb said in a statement released Tuesday. “We have worked with the Florida State Board of Administration on this matter, we remain committed to the more than 45,000 Airbnb hosts in Florida who share their homes with over 4.5 million visitors, and we’ll continue to do all we can to support our community.”
Florida families who rent their homes on Airbnb typically make about $6,500 a year in extra income, the company said in news release.
It itemized earnings per county. In Miami-Dade County, property owners took in $204 million from Airbnb rentals. In Broward County, the figure was $80.3 million. In Palm Beach County, it was $30.6 million. And in Orange County it stood at $40 million.
DeSantis said his hope is that Airbnb rescinds its policy before Florida takes any action against it.
“If you can’t make them see the light,” DeSantis said. “Make them feel the heat.”
If Florida imposes sanctions against the vacation-rental service, it would be a black eye for the company that has hopes to soon go public.
“That would not be good,” DeSantis said. “If you’re already on Florida’s hit list before you’ve even gotten off the ground.”
Daniel Korschun, associate professor at Drexel University’s LeBow College of Business and a Fullbright scholar, examines employee and consumer reactions to companies that take controversial political stands in his latest research.
“Airbnb had to know the move would cause some shockwaves. So it was a calculated risk,” he said. “When a company is making the political statements because it’s part of who they are — and it’s consistent with their past performance — then there’s a good possibility they’ll weather the storm.”
But still, Korschun said, “anytime a governor speaks to issues like this, it’s going to be heard by constituents. It could strike an emotional chord with voters, who happen to be consumers also.”
Broward Mayor Mark Bogen said he didn’t know enough about the situation, but said he’s not in favor of doing business with any company that discriminates on the basis of race, sex or religion.
“I want to know if it’s because the ownership of the company is upset with the Israeli government or is it because of safety concerns,” Bogen said. “Is it a liability issue or an issue of politics, of taking a stand against the state of Israel? That is the important question that I would ask.”
If the policy has more to do with anti-Semitism or being against the state of Israel, Bogen said he would “certainly entertain” cutting business ties with the company.
Israel captured the West Bank in a 1967 war. Its settlements are considered illegal by many world powers. Approximately 500,000 Israelis and 2.6 million Palestinians live in the West Bank.
When the home-renting company made its controversial announcement it said it had wrestled and struggled with the coming up with “the right approach.”
“We concluded that we should remove listings in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank that are at the core of the dispute between Israelis and Palestinians,” Airbnb said. “Our hope is that someday sooner rather than later, a framework is put in place where the entire global community is aligned so there will be a resolution to this historic conflict and a clear path forward for everybody to follow.”
In keeping with campaign pledges, DeSantis also announced that his first foreign trip will be to Israel.
That would likely occur after the annual Legislative session in Tallahassee wraps up in May.