Airbnb uses ‘independent’ hospitality groups to lobby policy makers
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Airbnb is using seemingly independent host groups on the platform to lobby policy makers and help it fend off threats to its business model due to tighter regulations.
The accommodation reservation platform has more than 400 “roommate clubs”, groups of owners who use Airbnb to rent rooms.
Airbnb says the clubs exist to help owners “build new relationships” with other hosts, and to “discuss issues in their communities and help each other find more information about local rules.”
But the company is also providing resources for groups so they can petition and lobby local authorities seeking to crack down on Airbnb activities.
A Manchester University studies, based on interviews with more than 20 former Airbnb employees, alleged that clubs “benefit from a significant amount” of professional political mentoring and coordination from the company, including media training and suggestions for specific audiences.
Luke Yates, lead author of the study, said local Airbnb organizations were “much better resourced” than their opponents, who tended to be community groups opposing the platform’s impact. form in local housing markets, where it is accused of increasing the cost of rent. .
On its Airbnb Citizen website, the company said the clubs are “independent local organizations run by hosts that serve as a forum for connecting and bringing together passionate hosts.”
But the study found that Airbnb also organizes these clubs to ensure members are individuals or small businesses and not the professional owners who own the majority of the ads on the platform and cause the most concern. among municipal councils.
Despite its origins as a way for people to be able to rent a spare room, 63% of Airbnb’s listings are managed by hosts with more than two properties, according to short-term rental analyst SeeTransparent.
“My mission was actually to keep [those landlords] away, ”said a former staff member. Another said homeowners with multiple properties were shunned “because they’re the only reason the city wants to legislate.”
Airbnb also provided refreshments for hospitality meetings, placards for protests and transportation, former staff said.
The study found that clubs were mostly concentrated in cities where Airbnb faced the greatest regulatory pressure, such as Barcelona, Paris and Berlin, whose authorities took measures such as limiting the number of licenses for rentals. holidays, reduction of the rental period of the rooms. , or registration requirements imposed on hosts.
Airbnb declined to comment on the allegation that it organizes host groups. He does not disclose how much he is spending on this effort except to say that he was supported by 16 Airbnb employees. He said 800,000 emails and tweets had been sent by hosts to local officials since 2016.
Airbnb’s local model, since emulated by other Silicon Valley companies, was first established in San Francisco, where in 2015 it successfully pushed back a proposal that would have significantly reduced its business in the city.
During the pandemic, Airbnb users have chosen to book outside of major cities, opening many new fronts with local governments.