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”.
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.
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.
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?
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?
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…