Since its launch in 2008, Airbnb has comfortably enjoyed what can only be described as global dominance. What started as a way for a couple of friends to pocket money by renting out their living room has grown into the largest vacation rental company in the world. In 2022, Airbnb owned properties in 100,000 cities and 220 countries and regions. And along the way, the platform has spawned a generation of imitators and rivals.
But in the background, an “Airbnbacklash” is regularly brewing. The popularity of Airbnb and similar platforms in cities like Barcelona, amsterdam and Berlin led to accusations of rent hikes, housing shortages and the “touristification” of entire neighborhoods. In the UKOn average, 29 homes are lost every day on the seasonal rental market.
And communities around the world have pushed back. In 2019, for example, ten cities co-signed a letter to the EU demanding stricter regulations on short-term vacation rentals.
Many local governments have introduced stricter rules. In 2017, it was decided that short-term rentals in London must adhere to an annual limit of 90 nights, while Palma de Mallorca in Spain effectively banned Airbnb-style rentals. In Southern California, Santa Monica hosts are prohibited from renting entire dwellings for less than 30 days, and must live locally if they want to rent a room for a shorter period. And New York announced tougher rules that could see 10,000 Airbnb rentals scrapped in 2023.
But complaints against unregulated vacation rentals aren’t just coming from communities and local governments. In 2022, Airbnb faced a new tidal wave of criticism from guests over hidden fees, curfews and to-do lists, with many people on social media celebrating the virtues of a hotel stay rather than homestay. Who would not you want someone to make your bed, take out your trash and help you find a pharmacy at 3:00 in the morning?
Foster families strike back
For a moment, it seemed as if the tide was turning. But as 2023 dawns, it’s clear that demand for homestays and vacation rentals isn’t going anywhere.
Airbnb emerged from the pandemic not only unscathed but better off, reporting an 80% increase in bookings in the first quarter of 2022 compared to the same period in 2019. And the broader market continues to grow, with the rental platform Vrbo Whole House – which was established in 1995, but recently changed its name – emerging as one of Airbnb’s main competitors.
And Airbnb doesn’t seem content with reviews and competition. Following this reaction from the guests, the site has removed hidden fees: a movement that should have a knock-on effect on the short-term rental sector this year, according to the travel industry site Skift.
Works and kitchens
Despite all the criticism, homestays continue to have key advantages over hotels. They have always been popular with families and groups looking for multiple rooms. But now the remote work revolution has led to an explosion of digital nomadism, longer stays, and “work” — all of which are much more suited to the away-from-home vibe of a vacation rental, compared to hotels. (The numbers speak for themselves: People stay an average of two nights in hotels, while the average vacation rental stay is five and a half days.)
Next, there’s one thing most hotel rooms lack: a kitchen. Expedia predicts that in 2023travelers will seek to limit their dining expenses by looking for accommodations that have access to cooking facilities.
This is not new: even in 2016, according to Hotel technical report, having access to a kitchen was the number one reason people opted for a vacation rental over a hotel. But it is even more relevant in a context of rising inflation which drive up food prices around the world.
And we have to co-sign. The restaurants are great: an essential part of discovering a new destination. But there’s nothing quite like the wonderful experience of shopping for groceries in a supermarket abroad and enjoying the window they give you into the local culture.
Foster family: the new generation
The good news, if you are looking for an alternative to Airbnb’s “everything, everywhere” approach is that an increasing number of homestay options are emerging that aim to offer a more specialized model. Fairbnb, for example, only lists properties owned by bona fide local residents and adheres to the “one host, one house” rule to prevent one person from having a monopoly on properties. Then there are the tastes of Biostays and Ecobnb, who only promote eco-friendly homestays. Meanwhile, platforms like Plum Guide promise to check each of their listings, in an effort to prevent customers from encountering nasty surprises and security issues.
And don’t discount the option of staying in an old-fashioned B&B. Somewhere between a hotel and a homestay, these traditional establishments offer the best of both worlds, combining the authentic homestay experience that Airbnb originally intended to offer with the friendly service of a hotel. (Many even have kitchens!) They also usually exist in tourist areas, helping to prevent the risk of locals being homeless or having their neighborhoods reshaped by tourism.
Some people will still prefer the comfortable embrace of a hotel. But in an age of rising costs, there’s something alluring about the benefits of lower prices and vacation home comforts. And with more and more options for community-minded travelers, we call it: Airbnbacklash or not, in 2023, vacation rentals will be bigger than ever.
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