Airbnb-friend or foe?

Airbnb is a great thing, shared economy is the future and those who try to regulate are old-fashioned idiots…right?

To make things clear, I have to admit that I myself fell in love with this idea of shared economy, especially in the field of housing. I use Airbnb both as a host and as a guest. As a passionate traveler I really appreciate the possibility of renting my flat to someone and thus cutting down the expenses a bit, and I always love to see the authentic, cheap offers all around the world, from the US to Burkina Faso (yes, there is Airbnb in Burkina Faso!). But coming to think of it, it is a love-and-hate relationship. Once you start thinking about it more, you hear few stories here and there, read some interesting articles, you realize that it actually ISN’T so great. Let’s take a look, shall we?

Airbnb

Starting with the positive. From the guest’s point of view, one of the main advantages of this service is the price. Accommodation on Airbnb is often cheaper than traditional hotels, which is logical of course, since they advertise rooms in a shared flat or even just beds in a shared room (Airbnb is a wordplay to the traditional “B’n’B=bed and breakfast vs. Airbnb=air bed and breakfast). This is without a doubt a great advantage in today’s world where one night in a regular 3-star hotel in a tourist destination such as Barcelona gets easily up to 100 euros. While deciding which type of accommodation will I choose during my travels, the price is probably the most important criterion. You know it, it’s all about the money. Therefore, Airbnb is an easy choice. Aside from the price, most people will tell you that thanks to Airbnb yo have the opportunity to get an authentic, local experience, because you get to know the locals, you live where and how the locals live and you simply see everything with the locals’ eyes! Awesome, isn’t it?! From the host’s perspective, Airbnb also offers various benefits, the most important one being the fact if you wanna keep your home during your travels around the world, you can simply make some money to pay the rent by renting the place out to fellow travelers who happen to be in your country at that time. Moreover, from my personal experience, it was quite surprising (in a good way) for me to see that there is Airbnb in countries like The Gambia or Burkina Faso, which represents another advantage for the hosts in these countries. Airbnb is a cheaper way of advertising your accommodation (in this part of the world, people advertise guest houses, bungalows etc., rather than their own flats), because you don’t need to pay any fee to the advertising platform, as on booking.com or others.

Let’s get to the negative now. Firstly, let’s think about the impact of this service on the locals mentioned above-the residents of the houses where a flat (or several flats, or just a room) is rented out through Airbnb. Imagine you come home after long day at work, grocery bags in hands, hungry, tired. The last thing you want is to encounter a group of noisy youngsters who will clearly not make it back home before midnight and might puke on the stairs on the way to their new home. Okay, this is maybe a bit extreme, but even if the guests are nice, considerate people, the idea of meeting someone new in the corridor every day or every week, is far from ideal. When we come home, we want to meet our neighbours, the same people, because that’s partly what makes home a home, isn’t it? Maybe I am too conservative, but I don’t wanna be walking down the stairs from my flat thinking “who the hell is this weird fella?” , “ah, so that’s you who made that noise till 4:30 am last night, thanks bro!” or “do I live in a guest house or what?!” I just don’t. And I am a very communicative and outgoing type, so don’t get me wrong! In some areas, the spread of Airbnb had led to an exodus of the local residents-typically in downtowns of popular destinations like Barcelona or Prague (I can confirm that, personal experience). So the idea of getting an Airbnb because I want to live with the locals, is actually ridiculous. You have forced the locals to leave, so no, you don’t live with the locals. And no, you are not getting a genuine, local experience, neither, because you live surrounded by other travelers, expats or some short-term renters. Because Airbnb and the locals just don’t work together. Moving on, rather a notorious issue here in Prague now, is the fact that Airbnb can significantly raise the rent prices. Maybe you’ve heard this, but let me explain once more how this works: it is more profitable for the owners to rent the apartment out through this platform, because they simply make more money than when they rent it on a regular, monthly basis (because they charge a higher price per night for short-term rentals on Airbnb). Therefore, if the owners rent the apartments on a short-term basis, it reduces the offer of available flats for long-term rent and their price gets higher. In case of Prague, literally skyrockets. So we have another proof that Airbnb is a great platform for tourists, but a catastrophe for locals, because it makes their living costs higher.
Finally, I would like to say one more thing. It’s an issue that no one talks about, which surprises me a lot. There is a lot of money flowing through Airbnb every year, that the guests pay (or that the owners earn-same thing). Does anybody tax this? The landlords should of course have their rent earnings taxed, but does it actually happen? How about Airbnb’s earnings, where do they go? Are these taxed? And why do they actually go somewhere else, if the service took place in a particular place? Isn’t the government losing some good amount of money here? Too many questions, I know, but I just don’t seem to find the answers. You see, here in Prague Airbnb makes up for some 50% of all the accommodation facilities. All the guests use the city’s infrastructure and public services…to which they don’t contribute not a single cent. Not my problem, but its just interesting that no one gives a damn about this.

So, what now? I guess there are basically three options. The first is to ban the service completely, the second is to regulate it and the third is to laissez faire-leave it to the market to deal with it. There is some kind of regulation in most European countries already. No matter how drastic it seems, ban is also an option, as you can see in the case of other shared services, such as Uber. And if the market is able to deal with it itself? Hard to say. On one hand, we have a big group which profits from the service-that’s why it was created and why it’s still alive, after all. On the other hand, we have a group of people, who are being seriously damaged by it. It is impossible to say which of the groups is bigger, though. In order to bring Airbnb down, people would have to stop using it completely. Which won’t most likely happen, because no matter our moral beliefs, convenience always wins. To book a flat with a few clicks in the heart of a European city for a good price, with the money being automatically paid from our account, is simply convenience at its best…

The conclusion is my classical statement-think. Every coin has always two sides. Not everything that seems useful at first, is good for everyone. And for the final conclusion a bit daring thought and maybe a suggestion for my next post-wouldn’t we be actually able to live without Airbnb?

T.

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