In an era where travellers seek out the coveted the local experience, no one wants to hear that the most popular home-sharing platform Airbnb hurts not helps local communities. If you live in a large city, popular mountain town or anywhere tourists frequent, you have most likely read or heard about the great AirBnb debate. And if you’ve checked in with your travel advisor lately and mentioned you might be considering AirBnb for an upcoming trip, they probably dished out a stern look of concern, and with very good reason. If you are unfamiliar with how AirBnb works, here’s a description of Airbnb according to Wikipedia:
“Airbnb Inc is an American online marketplace and hospitality service brokerage company based in San Francisco, California, United States. Members can use the service to arrange or offer lodging, primarily homestays, or tourism experiences.”
Sounds pretty benign right? Just a few folks, renting out their homes, a few days at a time to willing tourists, to make sure some of the bills are paid. There are currently over 6 million listings on the Airbnb website, in 191 countries and 65,000 cities around the world. According to this research site, Airbnb averages some half a million people are sleeping in an Airbnb every night. And the reason it’s so popular is three-fold: Reasonably priced accommodations with facilities such as kitchens and laundry (not generally available in hotels); Unique properties (everything from tree-houses, designer trailers to mansions); And most properties are generally based in residential neighbourhoods so you get more of that local feel. That all sounds fantastic, but without sounding dramatic, there is a much darker side to this particular accommodation option. Here’s how Airbnb hurts not helps locals:
It’s estimated that well over 50% of all listings on the platform are in fact, illegal. That is, they don’t pay any form of taxes, have no licensing and operate completely unregulated. Now this may not seem like such a big deal, until we start getting into things like liability, safety (I’ll elaborate on this point later) and accountability. But back to liability – Illegally run Airbnb’s are not properly insured, meaning if any of your personal belongings are damaged by let’s say, a flood, bedbugs, another guest or any number of other instances, you are not covered.
Lack of Safety and Security
Over the last five or six years, I’ve seen a significant increase in traveller’s requests to feel safe and secure. The media is a proverbial minefield when it comes to frightening tourism stories, and while some of it may seem like hype, there is still plenty to be concerned about. While hosts are supposed to be verified, you have no idea who else has access to the property you’ve just dropped your hard earned money on. I’ve heard everything from friends of the host dropping in; Dog walkers dropping off pampered pooches to unsuspecting house guests (ACTUALLY HAPPENED); To nosey in-laws “checking-in” on things. If something like this happens in a hotel, it would be a massive invasion of privacy and breach of the hotel’s privacy regulations. The other issue is safety. Fire detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, fire extinguishers, these are just a few safety considerations that an Airbnb may not comply with (or have to) due to lackadaisical local laws.
Up until last year, Airbnb hosts were permitted to requests the photos of perspective renters before they requested to book a property. You can imagine the civil rights violations this caused in places like the United States. After operating for ten years with this policy, Airbnb finally wisened up and changed the policy so hosts could only request a photo after a traveller had already booked and paid for their stay. It’s an improvement, but there are still plenty of reports of bookings being cancelled, the majority of those being Black, Muslim, Arabic or other ethnic sounding names.
Interrupts Local Life
Wait, whaaaat? You’re probably thinking to yourself the whole reason you booked an Airbnb is because you want to live, breathe and explore like a local, right? The truth is, because so many Airbnb’s are illegal (especially the apartments), your presence is not necessarily welcome nor appreciated. Apartment owners pay strata and council fees that provide a framework of rules and regulations everyone who lives in the building must adhere to. Apartment building dwellers often complain they don’t feel safe with strangers coming and going, and temporary renters doing respect or treat common spaces with care which in the end, costs everyone money, not just the host.
Airbnb’s Push the Locals Out & Contribute to Over-tourism
This is a headline you’ve probably seen once or twice if you live in a tourist-centric city. My own hometown of Vancouver, British Columbia has a less than 1% vacancy rate and some of the highest rents anywhere in the world. With apartment owners opting to rent their spaces out on a nightly or weekly basis, they’re able to cash in big bucks, and with rental space scarcity, apartment prices not only sky-rocket, locals are no longer able to afford to live in their own cities. Airbnb’s are by no means the sole cause of this phenomena, but they certainly haven’t helped.
In cities like Barcelona, short-term rental companies have caught on and have bought out or developed entire city blocks, often in the most coveted neighbourhoods (ie. La Rambla) with the sole purpose of renting them out to tourists. A recent article in the New Yorker stated that historic neighbourhoods like Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter has seen as much as a 45% loss of local residents. So while one may be on the hunt for accommodation with a local feel, tourists may be hard pressed to find the locals.
Airbnb Doesn’t Exactly Support the Local Economy
In a time where we really need to start looking at sustainability and the impacts our travel has on local communities, Airbnb hurts not helps the local economy. First off, Airbnb’s are not subject to the same licensing costs or taxes that licenced and registered hotels and accommodation properties face. Basically, hosts pay the Airbnb platform a fee, and use the rest as a mortgage helper, or just pocket the profits, tax free. Now, you may argue that patrons of the property are contributing to the local economy, however, what they contribute is minuscule compared to what a registered accommodation contributes or, a permanent tenant. Hotels, B&B’s and hostels have full and part-time staff they must pay. Airbnb’s do not.
Properties are Not Properly Vetted
As I mentioned above, there are some 6 million rooms currently listed on Airbnb, and more being added every day. Do you think that every single one of these properties is inspected, vetted or managed properly? There are of course some highly respectable hosts on the platform, who provide their guests with wonderful stays, however, they are the exception and not the rule. Guests houses, hotels, B&B’s , hostels even registered vacation properties are required to maintain a certain standard If they wish to keep their licences.
The Airbnb platform has enjoyed wild success, and despite its negatives, still remains one of the most popular forms of home-sharing accommodation. And in locations where occupancy rates are not an issue, Airbnb can be a great way to experience life as a local. However, as a consultant committed to supporting local communities and sustainability, I will always endeavor to provide alternative options that still allow travellers to get their boots on the ground and soak as much local life as possible.