The Airbnb promise: every man and woman a hotelier
In recent weeks, Airbnb, the online hosting site and popular Silicon Valley emblem of the sharing-love-trust-hugging-everyone-maybe-Conrad-Hilton economy, unveiled a promotional campaign in New York aimed at getting skeptics to see what a valuable social function the company performs. In a series of ads, seen primarily at subway stations, Airbnb hosts of various races and creeds are pictured in the unassuming lodgings they rent – at Prospect-Lefferts Gardens, Brooklyn, in Astoria, Queens – on a text explaining that Airbnb not only provides additional income to tens of thousands of New Yorkers, but also “strengthens our communities.”
A TV spot, Airbnb’s first, depicts an African-American woman named Carol wearing a dashiki and arranging flowers at her Lower East Side home. She is shown extending her hospitality to out of town guests for whom she bakes pancakes. We learn that her husband has passed away, that she has had children and that her job has disappeared. Airbnb made possible his survival and, we are supposed to understand, his pursuit of graduate studies in theology.
The company operates in 34,000 cities, and of these, Airbnb has had the hardest time securing local government ailments in Barcelona, San Francisco and New York, where state attorney general Eric T. Schneiderman , who described the internet as “one of the main crime scenes of the 21st century,” sought to limit the company’s influence. The hippie entrepreneurial spirit embodied by internet companies like Airbnb is not the most obvious target for an office that once more usefully envisioned Wall Street as the greatest scene of embezzlement of the century. But the attorney general and other officials don’t easily turn to the corporate argument for civic good.
Sometimes things happen that seem to justify their reservations. In March, a Chelsea man, returning home to the apartment he had rented from someone who said he was looking for a place for his in-laws while they were in town for a wedding, said instead found an orgy that left him throwing sheets all over his furniture in disgust. (Referring to attendees, the New York Post inimitably described this as an “overweight orgy.”) In 2010, two years after Airbnb was created, the New York State Legislature strengthened the statute related to the operation of illegal hotels, which are basically defined as apartments or rooms rented for less than 30 days. Believing that anyone should be able to rent a home, Airbnb would like this law to be overturned.