Although COVID-19 continues to lurk around, many of us are itching to travel. As soon as the world begins to reopen, many will finally book that postponed trip and kick-start tourism once again. But, it’s time to rethink our travel habits. It’s time to think twice before booking an Airbnb.
(Banner picture courtesy of Aesthetics Crisis: “Dear Tourist, enjoy your Airbnb, a future homeless Athenian,” Exarcheia, 2020.)
A Quick Prelude
I want to clarify that this post is not to discourage travel, but rather to rethink how we travel. We need to think of our impact on travel destinations.
In the following paragraphs, I reveal some information and images that are disturbing to see as a tourist going abroad. This is not not scare you, but rather to show you the compounded effects of mass tourism and overcrowding in the popular cities that many call home.
It should not be this way. Tourism should be a healthy economic factor. Unfortunately, too much of a good thing can turn it sour. A few bad eggs can really add to the locals’ distaste for tourism. That’s no one’s fault but our own.
Read more about overtourism in my blog here. It’s time to think about our impact as travelers, especially as we plan our post-COVID vacations.
I say this NOT to blast Airbnb. I’ve stayed in many myself, and I think the company has good intentions. Some of my most fond travel memories involved my Airbnb experience abroad. But, I urge you to think twice before booking that Airbnb. Not all Airbnbs are run ethically, and some may be greatly damaging the local community.
Airbnb is aware of this problem. According to Airbnb’s 2020 news update, they’ve dedicated $150 million into policies and regulations that will help protect neighborhoods and communities. However, there are always loopholes. Some hosts find ways to maneuver around these rules, which ultimately damages their own communities.
As we already know (reference previous blog “Will Overtourism Force Cultures into Extinction?”), sustainable travel is an up-and-coming topic in the tourism industry. Airbnb has pledged to help combat overtourism by driving people away from densely-populated areas and into more suburban or rural locations. However, Airbnbs still do exist in urban and mainstream communities. Although this isn’t inherently bad, but it could cause trouble in certain contexts.
In order to truly highlight the dangers of booking just any Airbnb, you have to educate yourself on both the pros and cons.
Some we think about already, and some we do not.
With Airbnb, you can find nightly rentals for a great rate. If more people are staying in cheap short-term rentals, hotels will have to lower their rates to stay in business. That’s great for travelers.
Hosts Get to Make Money
Many hosts establish an Airbnb as a second source of income. We all know that multiple sources of income is a smart idea, especially when raising a family. By booking the right Airbnb, you could be supporting a local family.
Variety of Stays
Airbnb provides a variety of stays: rural, urban, traditional room-in-house, and even tropical tree houses. The possibilities are endless, and you get to have unique experiences wherever you go.
By booking a more rural stay, you can help Airbnb fulfill their mission to combat overtourism and help alleviate the locals’ struggle in popular cities like Barcelona. Otherwise, we see resentment like this:
More Traffic for Local Businesses
More tourism offers more opportunities for businesses to make money. According to a BBC news article covering Airbnb’s affects on neighborhoods, “Airbnb can help accommodate more tourists and drive new customers to businesses in primarily residential areas.”
Increased Housing Costs for Locals
This is a big one. The impact is huge.
The presence of unethical Airbnbs (especially in urban areas where costs are already inherently high) tends to increase housing/rental costs for the locals. A classic example of this is happening in Venice, Italy; where very few true Venetians actually reside. It has become a city for tourists, not a city for locals.
Unethical Airbnbs located in city centers are often run by people who are not local. The host may have been local in the past, but he/she saw an opportunity to monetize their property. So, they moved to a neighboring town and kept the property as a rental. They get to list their Airbnb rental for more money, because travelers are willing to spend more money per night than long-term renters.
Now, the centrally-located property is home to hundreds of tourists every year. Very little of that money is going into a local economy unless it is taxed correctly, which many are not. This is an ongoing battle between Airbnb and cities looking to impose hotel tax to “entire home” short-term rentals – read more about illegal listings here. Instead, the not-so-local family and their town is now benefiting from the Airbnb listing, not the city in which it’s actually located.
The effect? Rising rental and housing costs. A study performed by Kyle Barron et al. suggested that “a 10% increase in Airbnb listings led to a 0.42% increase in rents and a 0.76% increase in house prices.” Airbnb listings have risen quite a bit since this study in 2017, and the annual guest target for 2028 is projected to be over 1 billion. Airbnb has seen rapid growth in concentrated areas.
The communities have felt it.
There are more ethical Airbnbs located in city centers that do allow you to stay with local families, and those are the Airbnbs you should be looking to book. Or, if possible, look to book outside of the city center with a family who lives away from the dense overpopulation of tourists and other Airbnbs.
Decreased Sense of Community
Neighborhoods that have converted to all short-term rentals have a decreased sense of community. Locals complain about strangers in their neighborhoods, loud and inconsiderate gatherings, and illegal parking on their streets.
This issue is largely due to our behavior as tourists. We are vacationing in someone else’s house and homeland. If we choose to stay in an Airbnb located in a neighborhood, we should be aware of how our actions and decisions affect the local communities. We shouldn’t contribute to the growing separation between locals and tourists. Tourism should not be resented. Read more about our behaviors as tourists here.
But, we now know that it’s not just the rowdy behavior. It circles back to the rising living costs that drive locals out. The locals are what make a community, not the visitors. Without them, there is no culture to experience.
Think Twice About Booking an Airbnb
Is the Airbnb legal and ethical? Does it help or hurt the community? Is that the best time and place to book an Airbnb? Are there better options out there?
When looking to book, consider these points:
- Are you booking an Airbnb during peak season or in a city that already suffers from overtourism? Maybe there’s a better accommodation you can book.
- Are you staying with a family in your Airbnb? Okay. Or, does the family live remotely and own multiple homes in the area which are listed on Airbnb? Yikes.
- Are you staying in an entire home? Make sure that they follow local tax laws and obey local rental restrictions. This is especially important in the cities listed in this article by BBC news.
- Is your Airbnb in a suburban/rural area? Okay. Is it more centrally located? Consider a rural location if possible, otherwise seriously consider the points above.
- Is the Airbnb part of a neighborhood? Be respectful!
There are pros and cons to booking Airbnbs. The images above is only a glimpse at the locals’ sentiment toward irresponsible tourism, and it’s up to us to reconstruct the travel culture.
COVID-19 has given us a chance to reflect on this problem and repair it before unsustainable tourism becomes irreparably ingrained into local economies. See how that’s happening in O’ahu, Hawaii.
There Are Other Options
Are you adventurous and interested in more sustainable travel practices while on a budget? Consider using Hostelworld, WOOFF, or other accommodation platforms that you know are trying to promote healthy tourism and community growth. We think Airbnb has good intentions… but there are some big wrinkles to iron out.
How can we help local communities when we travel? What do you think about Airbnb’s effect on local economy? We want to hear from you! Comment below.
If you know someone who loves to travel and spends time in Airbnbs, please share and spread the knowledge! Be part of the conversation. Be part of the change.