From Berlin to Barcelona; Will Airbnb ruin our most beloved cities? | Airbnb

To use industry jargon, it is the “disruptor” par excellence. Airbnb, the website that allows owners around the world renting out their spare rooms, has had a seismic impact on the travel market.

Hotel chains are said to be feeling the pressure as the US start-up – which has attracted $2 billion in funding in less than a decade – gnaws away at its business model by offering travelers the chance to ‘live like a local’ and ‘d ‘belong anywhere’ in one of the two million rooms and properties listed on its site.

The savvy admonitions, featured in clever advertisements on bus stops and billboards in cities around the world, have helped Airbnb grow at a seemingly relentless pace. Already present in 191 countries and 34,000 cities, analysts at financial services firm Cowen & Co predict that by 2020, Airbnb hosts will take 500 million bookings per night, rising to a staggering one billion by 2025.

It is a truly global phenomenon. Yet just as Uber’s attempts to shake up the taxi market have been met with resistance, Airbnb finds himself a victim of his own success as cities and countries wake up to the fact that the cute new kid on the block has been turned into an 800-pound gorilla.

The latest salvo was launched last week when Mark Tanzer, chief executive of the Association of British Travel Agents, warned that the popularity of companies such as Airbnb was leading to such an influx of visitors that there was a danger that some of Europe’s most attractive historic cities would be ruined. “If they can’t get around town, you’re going to lose tourism value, even if the numbers go up,” he said. “Overcrowding in key destinations is becoming an urgent problem. Left unchecked, we know tourism can kill tourism.

In the UK, more than three million people have used the site, while 52,500 people have opened their homes to strangers. A typical host can expect to earn £2,000 for renting a room for 46 nights a year.

Until recently, the rise of Airbnb was widely embraced by politicians and governments, who were quick to hail it as an example of the “sharing economy”. George Osborne unveiled plans in his latest budget that will allow hosts at venues such as Airbnb to earn £1,000 extra untaxed income by sharing their home. In March, a sign that it has truly come of age, Airbnb won a contract to provide a report of 20,000 rooms for this year’s Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

That’s not bad for a company that started in 2008, when its three founders rented air mattresses in their San Francisco apartment to make money. It is now one of the world’s largest online travel brands and only Priceline, Expedia, Ctrip and Marriott drive more online room bookings, according to Cowen & Co.

Luca Florio, an enthusiastic Airbnb host, started using the service three years ago to rent a guest room in the apartment he shares with his wife in the center of Florence. He said, “We saw it as a chance for cultural exchange, a chance to talk to people from different countries. It was only after three months that we understood that it could also be a way to earn money.

Florio said he and his wife could rent out their spare room every night if they wanted, but he tries to limit it to 20 nights a month during high season because it “is not just a business, we want to be free”. Guests come from all over the world: besides Spain, France, Austria and Switzerland, Florio regularly welcomes visitors from the UK, USA, Australia, India, South America and from China. “It’s a kind of alternative tourism, a new opportunity for tourists to have a different view of Florence,” he said.

Florio seems like a typical Airbnb host, someone who uses a valuable resource – a spare bedroom in one of the world’s most beloved cities – to earn a little extra cash, while learning more about the people in the world. other countries and cultures. That’s certainly how the company likes to present itself – a platform that allows the little guy to build a complementary industry, which increases the size of the hospitality pie rather than taking a slice of existing businesses.

Airbnb points out that almost 900,000 guests used it to visit Barcelona last year, spending some 740 million euros, almost six times more than in 2013. Three-quarters of hosts in the city have incomes below the national average. can extend the economic benefits of tourism to more people and more regions.

When Airbnb arrived in Barcelona in 2009, almost 80% of bookings were made in the old town. Today, however, nearly 70% of bookings are for accommodation outside the Old Town.

Tanzer’s comments about the negative impact of Airbnb’s expansion on tourism were fiercely dismissed by the company. In a statement to Observer, he said: “It is disappointing – but not surprising – to see attacks on new forms of travel that put money in the pockets of local residents and support small businesses outside hotel districts. Airbnb is extending guests and benefits to more families, communities and local businesses – many of whom have never benefited from tourism before.

But the Airbnb phenomenon attracting record numbers of tourists to certain destinations isn’t just irritating more traditional vacation operators, it’s also prompting deeper analysis of the company’s business model.

A report examining Airbnb’s Operations in the United States, published this year by Penn State University, identified the rise of the mega-operator – people who rent three or more Airbnb units. The report found that “a growing number of hosts are using the Airbnb platform to run an unregulated full-time business. Nearly 30% of Airbnb’s revenue comes from this group of full-time hosts. They are getting bigger and bigger.

Other organizations have expressed similar concerns. “There is strong evidence that far from simply facilitating the use of empty guest rooms, Airbnb is actually enabling landlords to circumvent government regulations and actually run illegal hostels,” said Julian Ledger, CEO of Airbnb. YHA Australia. says a parliamentary inquiry.

Airbnb vigorously rejects these fears, stressing that it is quick to take action against any hosts suspected of breaking the law and trying to avoid taxes.

Earlier this month, it released data showing that since its inception, it has raised $85 million in tax revenue for cities around the world. At the end of last year, he unveiled his Community Pacta series of commitments to “treat cities individually, help our community pay its fair share of tourism and hotel taxes, build an open and transparent home-sharing community, and promote responsible home-sharing to help make cities more strong”.

The initiative preceded a sensitive moment: Wall Street awaits Airbnb to float on the stock market this year, a move that could see it valued at nearly $26 billion.

But not all governments and authorities adhere to the concept of home sharing. San Francisco passed a law which allows hosts to rent properties for up to 90 days per year only. Berlin prohibits users to rent entire properties, while Iceland has proposed rules which will require some roommates to register as businesses.

Now, in what may prove to be the biggest threat to Airbnb’s business model yet, the New York State Senate and Assembly have just unveiled laws that would ban New Yorkers from advertise their homes on its platform.

“If passed into law, this legislation would threaten thousands of low- and middle-income New Yorkers with fines of up to $7,500 simply for indicating they would like to share their home,” Furious Airbnb.

Given that it is a fledgling company that has yet to establish its bona fides, analysts suggest resistance is to be expected. But, one day soon, Airbnb may have to face who is profiting from its seemingly relentless expansion.

“There are people who just do it for business,” Florio said. “They buy three or four apartments in town and it’s too much. These people, he suggested, were damaging the complexion of historic city centers. “These people don’t care about Florentians, just tourists.”

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