FSB professor, students helping Oxford get insight into Airbnb market

(l-r) Sam Perry, Ben Anderson, Jordan McMaster, Mark Tremblay, and Oxford mayor Kate Rousmaniere talk about the project in the Economics office

When the city of Oxford set out to get information about the short-term rental housing market in the city, they ended up reaching a Farmer School economics professor who not only was considering putting his home on Airbnb, but has done extensive research on the topic.

“The city wanted as many people who were interested in hosting a listing or had already previously hosted a listing to register on their online form so they could get survey data for a look at what the market is in Oxford,” assistant professor Mark Tremblay recalled. “Sam sent out an email to everyone that participated, thanking them. And I replied to that email just to let them know that I would be interested in helping out in any way I could, because I have an extremely rich dataset on Airbnb that I use in my own research.”

“Sam” is Sam Perry, the Community Development Director for the city. “Since this is a changing economy, the sharing economy, being able to get a window into that market, especially with the horsepower that Miami has with research, was really helpful,” Perry said. “The Farmer School and Miami had access to data that the city did not, so it made it a good partnership for us.”

Tremblay invited a pair of graduate students, Jordan McMaster and Ben Anderson, to take part in the Oxford-Miami Short Term Rental Public Policy Partnership, which involved looking at the data the city gathered and examining metropolitan data that the economics department purchased that covered a five-year span of Oxford’s short-term rental market. They found that more than 100 properties in Oxford generate nearly $500,000 in revenue every year, an amount that was more than expected.

“It's a potentially very profitable market, which we were surprised by. We were surprised at how much you could make listing your home just a few weekends a year. A lot of people are taking advantage of that, and that speaks volumes about how valuable it is to keep tourism here in Oxford,” Tremblay said. “Without Airbnb, all of these people are spending all of this money in Cincinnati or Hamilton instead of staying here. So there's huge profits being concentrated in Oxford that would otherwise leave. I was surprised at how big the margins were.”

“Some of the hotels gave us information about their lodging data, so we're able to weave all that together. This is turning into more of a data-driven policymaking project rather than a hunch, so that's really fantastic. I'm really excited about where it's going,” Perry remarked.

Anderson and McMaster said being part of the project was an interesting experience for them as well. “It's definitely interesting to study the material, but to actually see it in practice is huge. Just to sit down with officials and council members and to see how they actually take this information and want to put it into their policy,” McMaster said.  “Especially in a smaller place where the effect will probably take hold in a short amount of time. So you get to see it play through the whole way, and I think that's rare.”

“Talking with the city officials about my data and the implications they got from my findings, it seemed like a really cool application of everything I learned in economics,” Anderson noted.

The project is ongoing, but Tremblay believes the work done so far is a big step forward for everyone involved. “We were able to give a very rich, detailed analysis of what the market looks like,” Tremblay explained. ”Hopefully, it's going to inform them as to what policies they should put forward.”