AirBnb Hasn’t Lived Up to Its Utopian Claims – The Guardian

Housing doesn’t fit the way people live any more – but the current models of sharing are not working

Airbnb started as a way to help two friends handle a rent hike. Joe Gebbia and Brian Chesky had just quit their jobs to start a business when their landlord jacked up the rent by 20%. But a big design conference was coming to town, and all San Francisco’s hotels were fully booked. Joe had an idea: “Brian, I thought of a way to make a few bucks – turning our place into ‘designers’ bed and breakfast’.”

Three air mattresses in the living room became a $31bn business. Today, parts of the UK – such as Edinburgh Old Town, or the Devon village of Woolacombe – have around one Airbnb listing for every four properties. In cities and tourist destinations around the world, landlords keep increasing rents by 20% or more. Yet Airbnb now appears to be the cause rather than the solution.

Like many Californian startups, there was something utopian about Airbnb’s founding vision. What if trustworthy travel didn’t have to mean big, corporate hotel brands? In 2003, couchsurfing.com had pioneered online homestays, using the web to share profiles and reviews to give people confidence that strangers could just be “friends you hadn’t met yet”.

Airbnb took this model and ran with it. It had a kind of countercultural cachet: avoid price-gouging chain hotels! Stay in “unique accommodations (like castles, treehouses or boats!)”. Be part of a “global community”. The company talked smoothly about how it “empowered” residents and distributed “economic opportunities … across diverse communities”.

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