Bland raises concern about tax

Robert Smith

The director of Osage County Tourism last week voiced a concern during her report to county commissioners about whether a corporation that books stays for guests at bed-and-bath establishments is collecting the county’s five-percent lodging tax.

Tourism Director Kelly Bland expressed concern about whether Vrbo, pronounced “verbo,” collects the lodging tax when it books overnight stays for guests in Osage County bed-and-baths. Vrbo, previously known as Home Away, is based in Austin, Texas. It is a large company owned by the Expedia Group that has been the name sponsor for the Citrus Bowl college football game.

Bland told the Journal-Capital that she didn’t think Vrbo was collecting the tax, and she was concerned about making sure Osage County bed-and-bath operators had sufficient information about the situation to make business decisions.

“My heart is that I don’t want any of our businesses affected,” Bland said.

Airbnb does collect the tax and remit it to the state of Oklahoma, Bland said. She added that she had consulted with County Treasurer Sally Hulse, who consulted tax records and talked with the state Tax Commission. The working conclusion of that consultation was that Vrbo appeared not to be collecting the lodging tax.

Airbnb does collect it, Bland said.

Hulse told the Journal-Capital that she had talked with someone at the state Tax Commission and learned the Tax Commission was looking at the issue of Vrbo’s tax collection practices.

The Journal-Capital attempted to contact Vrbo, first by submitting an email to its corporate office regarding a desire for information from the company; and second, by leaving a phone message for a Vrbo communications officer. The newspaper did not hear anything from Vrbo prior to deadline for this edition.

The Journal-Capital consulted online information made public by Vrbo. The company has its headquarters in Austin, Texas and recently officially converted to the name “Vrbo” as opposed to an older name, “Home Away.” The company provides information about itself and its business practices through an online help portal,

In its section about taxes it has a subsection on local taxes. That subsection includes the question, “What stay taxes/lodging taxes do you collect and remit?”

The anwer that Vrbo provides is, “We collect lodging taxes from travelers in jurisdictions where we are required by law or an agreement. In those areas, taxes are remitted by us to the jurisdiction.”

The company also says, “In some cases, we may also display lodging taxes for a traveler to see in connection with the transaction. Those taxes are sent to you (the bed-and-bath operator) and it is your obligation to remit the taxes to the appropriate jurisdiction.”

Vrbo additionally provides a “full list of jurisdictions where we collect taxes.” The version of that list that the Journal-Capital viewed included 30 states and the District of Columbia, as well as three foreign countries. It did not include Oklahoma.

In a note posted along with the jurisdiction list, Vrbo cautions bed-and-baths doing business with it that it is their responsibility to understand their tax obligations.

“Check with your local authorities for more information about the requirements in your area,” Vrbo says in that note.

Bland said she is interested in talking with bed-and-bath operators in Osage County who have used Vrbo to book stays for guests, to ensure they understand the county’s lodging tax.