ELLSWORTH — The number of rental properties in Bar Harbor and Ellsworth listed on home sharing site Airbnb grew this year compared to last, according to data obtained this week by The Ellsworth American.
But while there were more properties for renters to choose from, the overall number of visitors either fell (as in Ellsworth) or grew at a slower pace (as in Bar Harbor) this year than last.
As of July 1, according to Airbnb, there were 230 active Ellsworth-based listings, a 64 percent increase compared to last year, when there were 140 listings.
Bar Harbor, which has been struggling for months with how to regulate short-term rentals, saw a roughly 130 percent increase in the number of listings this summer compared to last, with 460 active as of July 1.
That number includes all listings registered with a Bar Harbor address, which includes rooms, apartments and single-family homes. Some businesses such as hotels and bed-and-breakfasts also list their properties on the site.
An Airbnb representative estimated there were “more than 200” listings in the same time frame last year.
San Francisco-based Airbnb is not the only home sharing site, but it is the leading company in the United States, providing an online platform for property owners to rent rooms, apartments and entire homes.
“Throughout the summer of 2019, we have continued to see the significant, positive impact of our short-term rental community across Maine,” said Josh Meltzer, Airbnb’s head of northeast public policy, in a statement released at the beginning of September.
“As we mark yet another historic summer and look ahead, we hope to keep working with state government, as well as towns and cities statewide, to ensure short-term rentals can continue to play a strong role in the entire Maine economy.”
But while the number of listings was up in both municipalities, the number of visitors to those properties either fell or increased at a slower rate.
Ellsworth saw a slight drop in the number of visitors, from an estimated more than 7,000 last summer to 6,900 this summer.
The number of visitors to Bar Harbor Airbnb rentals was up 31 percent, from 10,600 in 2018 to 13,900 this summer.
But that was a slower pace of growth compared to the 2017 to 2018 period, which saw a 44 percent hike in summer visitors renting an Airbnb in the town.
The drop-off in visitation growth was particularly marked in Ellsworth, which saw a 59 percent increase in the number of visitors to Airbnb properties between 2017 and 2018 (from 4,400 to 7,000) but a 1 percent decrease this year.
With their proximity to Acadia National Park, the two municipalities still rank among the top five Airbnb destinations in the state, along with Portland, Old Orchard Beach and Wells.
Airbnb hosts in Bar Harbor and Ellsworth made more money this season overall than last.
According to Airbnb, hosts made a total of $3.7 million in Bar Harbor, up from $2.5 million last year, and $1.4 million in Ellsworth, up from $1.1 million for the 2018 season.
Figures on what a typical Bar Harbor or Ellsworth host earned this summer were not yet available, said Liz DeBold Fusco, a representative for Airbnb, in an email this week.
Last summer, revenue for hosts was higher in both municipalities than the statewide average, with a typical Bar Harbor host bringing in just shy of $8,000 and one in Ellsworth making nearly $6,000 (compared to $4,800 statewide).
Visitors also ventured elsewhere in Hancock County. Airbnb hosts countywide brought in a total of $11.5 million in rental income from the site this summer, with 51,900 guests. That was the third-highest income in the state, behind Cumberland and Franklin counties.
Bar Harbor has been grappling for months with the issue of how to regulate short-term rentals and provide affordable year-round housing for residents.
A recent survey revealed that one-fifth of the town’s housing stock is listed on short-term vacation rental websites, which has put increasing pressure on limited housing stock.
The Town Council recently boosted the registration fee for such rentals from a one-time $50 to an annual $250 to help cover the cost of enforcement and the required inspections of rental properties, but rejected a proposed moratorium on short-term rentals earlier this summer.
But Ellsworth, at least so far, has shown little appetite for regulation. City Manager David Cole has said in the past that he doesn’t “get the sense that it’s been a big issue here.”
Code Enforcement Officer Lori Roberts told The American last fall that there are no rules on the books to regulate these kinds of properties, and that the city will likely not take steps to regulate them unless they became a problem.
Statewide, according to the recently-released data, 295,000 guests rented a room or property on Airbnb between Memorial Day and Labor Day, with hosts bringing in $55.7 million in overall revenue.
That’s nearly double the number of guests compared to just two years earlier, when the company reported 158,000 guests and about $27 million in revenue in Maine.