Airbnb is one of my favourite companies. I love travelling to stay in gorgeous residences around the globe instead of an impersonal hotel.
I’ve actually just arrived in Berlin for a month to work on my freelance writing business, and I’m already loving the beautiful apartment and my friendly host. I booked it through Airbnb.
It’s a startup that has now changed the tourism industry by making it possible to easily stay with a host in a real ‘community’. Airbnb is like couchsurfing, but bigger and better (by the way the link is about couchsurfing vs sexsurfing and I just thought it was really interesting).
Airbnb is particularly popular with ‘digital nomads’. This is a subculture of people who choose to travel the globe and work remotely instead of living in a fixed location.
Airbnb gives people the opportunity to live in someone else’s home for an extended period of time, without the strings of officially letting a property from a landlord or agency.
However, when your company is as successful as Airbnb, and you create a whole new industry of home-sharing, there are bound to be huge challenges to overcome.
Challenges for Airbnb
Many people have casually said to me, don’t you know that Airbnb is illegal in Berlin, now? It’s not actually illegal.
The line has now been blurred between being a guest and letting a property and it’s ruffling a few feathers in the establishment.
One problem is a shortage of housing in many cities: for Berlin in particular, and London, where I’m from. There is a view that letting properties to ‘foreigners’ for a profit will take valuable space away from ‘residents’.
Airbnb say their service is meant for those people renting out a room in their own home, or people in the countryside who may own two abodes, where there isn’t a housing shortage.
On the other hand, there is the issue of communities being damaged by the very tourists who come to see them.
Rich foreigners traipsing through and taking advantage of the cheap standard of living could damage the sense of cooperation and trust in the community.
I think one of the unspoken issues with Airbnb is hosts letting their spare rooms or whole properties through Airbnb takes money away from the property industry. In London in particular, many influential people are invested in property and they certainly wouldn’t want their stranglehold to be damaged.
The bigger picture
I am a huge fan of Airbnb because I love the idea of coming to stay in people’s homes and experience their individuality and creativity. For me, going abroad is not about the hotels and tourist traps, but people and local culture.
I think the problems that many people bring up are not to do with the way Airbnb is run but a fundamental suspicion that some people have of strangers, and a fear of new experiences.
I met Emilia from Airbnb (pictured above) who was incredibly lovely. She mentions how she is trying to build awareness of the issues for hosts of Airbnb in Berlin, with the longterm view of suggesting new laws to the government surrounding subletting.
At the moment, property renting is shrouded in mystery and there is an atmosphere of fear rather than informed judgement.
The sharing economy
Airbnb is an example of a startup that has experienced success beyond most people’s wildest dreams. With that success comes challenges of scale and revolve around maintaining the company’s original ethos.
That ethos is to be customer-centric. Airbnb know they need to focus on the communities that are part of the Airbnb world, where travellers go to meet locals and experience genuine culture.
I hope Airbnb is just the first of many successful startups in the sharing economy.
Websites like Freecycle (through which people can give away unwanted items to people in their community) and Zipcar (sharing a car) highlight how a new generation of millennial ‘consumers’ are less concerned with ownership than their parents.
This is of course partly to do with rising costs, but also reflective of how our connectivity and globalisation have narrowed the gulf between people, and also underscores our concerns about sustainability for our planet.
The environment will always be affected by human beings and we need to find a way to balance the possibilities of technology with the greater good.
As someone with no fixed abode, I enjoy the opportunity for me to travel to different countries for short periods of time, to make new friends and live somewhere that is more than a hostel or hotel – nearly a home.
Berlin is my first stop and I’m looking forward to using Airbnb for future travels.
I’m a B2B freelance tech blogger and content writer. If you liked this post, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org to find out how we can work together.