An Airbnb in Tokyo.

That’s a new definition for “super host”…

When you think of Airbnb, it’s nice to see it in a simple and beautiful light. Like a retiree with an extra bedroom making some side income, or a family that’s worked hard, making extra income via an investment home. However you see it: you’re likely there because you need an extra bedroom,  love a good deal, a better location or perhaps prefer to cook at home. But, what if the people you were renting from weren’t in fact just friendly locals, and instead were multi national corporations reaping full profit from the Airbnb boom? The Guardian reports that Barcelona has been digging into the city’s rising rent problem, and research is pointing the finger squarely at Airbnb, and a handful of powerful “hosts”.

The Findings

In buzzing Barcelona, 10 hosts were found to manage at least 996 properties between them. One host reportedly manages 204 apartments, with a daily income of roughly $42,000 per day in peak season. Sure, they likely hire someone to clean the sheets and replace the towels, but that’s big money. This is in stark contrast to Airbnb’s curated image, where hosts are just everyday people benefiting from the sharing economy via a spare bedroom or small investment property. Airbnb cites that 76% of hosts in Barcelona manage just one home, and that the vision is real.

Driving Rentals

But here’s the issue: landlords make much more money listing properties on Airbnb than actually renting them out, and that’s driving up prices, and pushing locals out. Why rent a place out long term at €1500 a month, when you can charge €120 a night for 30 nights, 365 days a year? It’s fair game, perhaps, but where are locals supposed to go? And if locals go, what are local restaurants, bars, markets, laundromats and everything else to do? Neighborhoods are being uprooted, and the rise of a smaller percentage of people operating an increasing number of the rentals cuts into the credibility of “sharing” in the sharing economy.

An Airbnb in Tokyo.

Conundrum

Airbnb argues that 80% of accommodation licenses are held by major hotels and travel groups, and that every day people deserve to benefit from the tourism boom in equal measure. While that argument is attractive, Airbnb has done nothing to limit the number of properties a single person, or realistically companies can hold. Many property management and rental groups have now all but packed up their own competing websites, Google ads and so forth in favor of simply listing on Airbnb. These are powerful companies with the funding to swoop into a city, acquire property and farm out the work. If only the few, such as these property management firms, are benefiting from the “sharing economy” Airbnb offers, is it actually offering any common good?

Airbnb Services

The business behind the business of Airbnb is fascinating. Sleepy maid services are now “Airbnb cleaning specialists” with more work than they can handle. Those in need of part time income are now hired greeters and facilitators for Airbnb apartments, with booming demand for people who can offer turnkey operations. Vacation Rental Management companies handle Airbnb listings for a a hefty fee, and are now one of the fastest growing industries. There’s obvious common good benefit to the services companies needed to help busy people effectively manage an Airbnb, but if major companies continue to muscle in and dominate the market, there’s less opportunity for others. If one vacation rental management (VRM) handles the whole city, is that any different than a mega hotel chain profiting, versus the residents of Barcelona?

An Airbnb In Bali.

Marketing Platform

Airbnb is accused of being a marketing platform for major corporations and travel brands. In fact, hotels are often now listed. There’s no question that the platform has done tremendous good in the quest for fair and equitable short term accommodation pricing around the world, and created opportunity for many, but like Facebook, Uber, Instagram and all the other major players of the world, it’s all about how it tackles these key issues. Uber was a simple, brilliant idea which put many people to work, yet now it’s a system which is more about gaming customers than driving them. And that’s driving people to look at whether it’s a good idea at all…

How do you see it?

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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4 Comments

  1. As an AirBnB host myself (only one property, a vacation home, so not one of the “culprits” of this article), it’s becoming increasingly difficult avoiding the chain renters. First, AirBnB itself makes life easier for the chains and harder for individuals, by continually tweaking its rules and processes. A chain can keep on top of it but an individual finds it difficult. Secondly, sadly, quite a few customers prefer the security of a chain renting to them (you will see many posts proudly advertising “Managed by XXX”) rather than risking an individual experience, even if that experience comes with stellar reviews.

    Some of this is a reflection of reality – chains find it easier to handle service recovery (otherwise known as the previous guest did so much damage that it can’t be repaired in time for the next one – a chain will simply swap the next guests into another unit), can optimize amenities and benefit from bulk buying.

    However, communities are correct to be worried about the impact of chains muscling in on the territory. There is good reason for hotels to have zoning requirements (both for the sake of the neighbors and for the purposes of controlling tourist numbers), and there are good reasons for having hotels comply with all sorts of building code requirements which don’t apply to private homes. AirBnB has ignored all of these issues – and IMHO that’s principally why it spins the deceit of its homely image.

    Sadly the good days of AirBnB are over and we are in for a much more homogenized product, which will cause it slowly to be regulated out of the reach of individuals.

  2. First great article and NB a great reply.

    GSTP I noticed the in September when trying to find a decently priced Barcelona AirBNB. Even my eventual selection managed several properties. Over an espresso he mentioned that he made so much more money on AirBNB versus renting long term to locals. As he was a Superhost his place, services and insights were still cheaper and better quality than a hotel.

  3. It is unfortunate how quickly AirBnB turned from a neat, novel concept that was a fun to use experience to what it has become now. I use to host my own home on AirBnB for times when I would be away on vacation, I loved the idea of fellow travelers being able to enjoy my home in a location they couldn’t otherwise stay in, and had wonderful experiences. Guests would clean up after themselves, occasionally leave gifts from home, and shared their stories in our guest book. We loved staying in the AirBnB’s when we traveled to because we got to stay with locals who were excited to share their homes and experiences. It was a fantastic way of traveling. Those days are long gone though. We stopped hosting after guests started to treat us like servants instead of hosts, things went missing, and guests no longer cleaned up after themselves. Conversely, we saw the quality of homes we stayed at dropping considerably. No longer were we guests with a host or using someone’s home while they were away, now it was all just an IKEA hotel, with no soul at all. Hosts made us feel like we were inconveniencing them when we asked to leave bags at the unit or asked for any help after check in. After the last few experiences with AirBnB, in Paris and Barcelona, we have pretty much sworn it off entirely. I’d rather pay for the consistency, pleasant interaction with staff, and no sense of displacing locals that they provide. It all comes full circle I suppose.

  4. Pedro
    We are super hosts and love it. V hard work tho. Lots of cleaning. Plus our daughters place when she is away on location shoots. Disagree on levels of service. We have people drop off bags early. And if they need a really early check in, we ask for a 50% extra day fee. Feel that’s fair to offer that. Otherwise we we feel taken advantage of. After all hotels charge for early arrivals.
    Great concept, long may it last.
    We have been guests too. Lovely time.

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