Travel Industry Group Asks FTC to Investigate DC Anti-Airbnb Ad Starring Actress From NY - NBC4 Washington
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Travel Industry Group Asks FTC to Investigate DC Anti-Airbnb Ad Starring Actress From NY

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    A travel industry group is now asking the Federal Trade Commission to investigate an anti-Airbnb ad, claiming it's deceptive. Jodie Fleischer reports.

    (Published Wednesday, May 24, 2017)

    A travel industry group is now asking the Federal Trade Commission to investigate an anti-Airbnb ad, claiming it's deceptive.

    The commercial -- first investigated by the News4 I-Team in April -- features an actress portraying a resident of the Anacostia neighborhood of Washington, D.C., who is upset about the impact of short-term rentals in her neighborhood.

    In a letter addressed to the acting chairwoman of the Federal Trade Commission, Travel Technology Association President Steve Shur asks FTC investigators to examine the degree to which the ad's content is deceptive to consumers. He also accuses the Share Better Coalition, which produced the ad, of violating FTC guidelines for endorsements and testimonials.

    "I'm tired of feeling like an outsider in my own neighborhood," the actress states in the commercial, after claiming to have moved to Anacostia at age 5, that she grew up there and raised her family there.

    The News4 I-Team revealed the woman actually felt like an outsider because she's an actress from New York City.

    The ad first surfaced right around the time the D.C. Council began considering regulations for the short-term rental industry.

    "Every city contemplating regulations for short-term rentals deserves an open and honest discussion about STRs," said Shur. "False advertising, fake grassroots organizations and the misinformation campaign put forth by the hotel lobby serve no public good and won’t lead to the viable solutions cities seek."

    Shur claims the ad was funded by the hotel industry in an effort to impact policy and eliminate competition.

    FTC guidelines say ads like that should use actual consumers or clearly disclose that the people featured in the ad are actors.

    Share Better Coalition did not return a call for comment regarding the FTC letter, but at the time of the original I-Team story, a Share Better spokesman defended the ad, saying it was intended to reflect the overall Airbnb experience in many neighborhoods, even though Anacostia is what was written on the screen.

    "At some point, the credibility of the sponsors of these misleading campaigns needs to be called into question," said Shur. "Travel Tech urges the Federal Trade Commission to examine the degree to which the advertisement’s content is deceptive to consumers and violates the Commission’s guidelines for endorsements and testimonials in advertising."

    The Share Better spokesman also defended the decision not to disclose that the woman is an actress.

    "This ad is deceptive and disingenuous,” Airbnb said in a statement. “While Airbnb is helping real D.C. residents make ends meet, hotels have continued to ignore the District's east of the river communities, and we're glad their deceptive tactics have been brought to light."

    An FTC spokesman said the agency does not confirm if or when it opens an investigation.