Anti-Airbnb groups protest vacation rental seminars on Oahu

A series of seminars aimed at teaching Hawaii residents how to capitalize on the Airbnb vacation rental craze has stirred protests from those opposing the industry.

Fliers advertising three, 90-minute seminars called "Make Money With Airbnb" recently went out to thousands of Oahu homes, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported Tuesday.

The fliers were sent by Utah-based Response LLC, promising to teach people how to buy investment properties, renovate them and turn them into vacation rentals.

One of the events drew a crowd of protesters from the anti-Airbnb group Friends Against Illegal Rentals and Unite Here Local 5, a union representing thousands of Hawaii hotel employees.

"When I first moved to Waialua 10 years ago, we didn't see vacation rentals that often. Now, people's entire houses are being turned into two and three vacation rental units," said Mike Biechler, executive director of Friends Against Illegal Rentals. "We are peacefully protesting the flipping of our communities. This seminar is perpetuating the myth that turning homes into vacation rentals is a legal and good investment."

The event also has drawn criticism from Airbnb. The company issued a cease-and-desist letter last week notifying seminar organizers and sponsors to discontinue using Airbnb's trademarks in their material.

"It has recently come to our attention that the Airbnb name and logo are being used on a flyer to promote services and an event that we are not affiliated with," said Matt Middlebrook, Airbnb's public policy manager. "This is misleading, deceptive and erodes the trust Airbnb has built with our community."

Garron Combs, who works for Response, asked the Honolulu Star-Advertiser to leave one of the seminars, saying the company's legal team does not allow journalists to attend. The Star-Advertiser was also prevented from talking to seminar attendees.


Information from: Honolulu Star-Advertiser,