Editor's note: This post has been updated since first published to clarify that the Airbnb ads do not officially target a November ballot initiative that would increase restrictions on short-term rentals in the city.
Several months ago, Airbnb was coughing up millions of dollars in back taxes to San Francisco City Hall after having failed to comply with the local 14 percent hotel tax. Now the on-demand room-booking startup is cleaning up another public relations mess in the city where it was founded in 2008.
A series of ads appearing in locations such as bus stops has rubbed some Bay Area residents the wrong way. The ads seek to build goodwill by pointing out how much revenue Airbnb is injecting into the city's coffers.
"Dear Public Library System, We hope you use some of the $12 million in hotel taxes to keep the library system open later. Love, Airbnb," reads one ad.
Many initially interpreted the ads as targeting Proposition F, a ballot measure that would limit private rentals in the city to 75 nights per year. The policy would put a damper on Airbnb's business in the city where it has nearly 6,000 rentals. Airbnb has launched an $8 million campaign against the proposition.
But a reporter for alternative weekly publication SF Weekly reports the ads are not part of the $8 million campaign. Julia Carrie Wong points out the ads don't specifically mention Prop. F and the advertising policy of the city's transportation authority does not allow for ads pertaining to ballot measures in upcoming elections to appear on buses or bus shelters.
Even so, the ads appeared within two weeks of Prop. F appearing on a ballot before voters.
A Facebook user posted a photo of the ad addressing the library system, writing in her caption, "I'm happy to hear that you paid your taxes this year. I did, too! Isn't it awesome? However, I've crunched some numbers, and I have some bad news for you." She then provided her own calculations of the impact Airbnb's taxes would have, concluding the impact of the money on public services would be fairly minimal.
The user even thought at one point the ads were a hoax until a Business Insider reporter confirmed for her they were real.
Airbnb has responded to the controversy by saying it will remove the ads. "The intent was to show the hotel tax contribution from our hosts and guests, which is roughly $1 million per month. It was the wrong tone, and we apologize to anyone who was offended. These ads are being taken down immediately," company spokesman Christopher Nulty told TechCrunch.