Home Podcast Episode 18: The Airbnb Effect

Episode 18: The Airbnb Effect

written by Sam and Veren July 30, 2020
Episode 18: The Airbnb Effect

In this episode, we’re going to dive deep into the home sharing platform, Airbnb and what’s known as “The Airbnb Effect”. Though often touted as a way to “live like a local,” Airbnb’s near ubiquitous presence around the world often has detrimental effects for actual locals.

However, the Airbnb Effect is a nuanced issue, as we’ll get into in the episode.

Is Airbnb all bad or can it be used ethically? What alternatives to Airbnb exist? What do we do as full time travelers who prefer to stay in apartments?

We cover it all in today’s episode!

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In This Episode, We’ll Discuss:

  • What is Airbnb?
  • What is the Airbnb effect?
  • How Airbnb can be harmful (and where it is especially problematic)
  • Airbnb’s role in gentrification
  • Benefits of Airbnb
  • Our experiences living in places where Airbnb is affecting local communities
  • Why this is such a nuanced issue without a clear-cut answer
  • If it’s possible (and how) to use Airbnb ethically
  • Regulations that places have put into place and why this helps
  • Alternatives to Airbnb in the sharing economy (including our favorite)
  • Much more!

Links + Resources Mentioned in the Show

Transcript:

These transcripts have been automatically generated and then edited by us, so please excuse any typos, missed capitalization, weird phrasing, etc. Humans talk very differently than they write, as we’ve learned! There are just topics that just lend themselves better to conversations rather than blog posts, but we also want the podcast to be accessible to all.

Sam:  Hi and welcome back to the alternative travelers podcast. How are you doing today? Veren?

Veren: Oh hello. welcome everyone as well to all our listeners around the world. 

Sam: yeah actually that reminds me we passed a milestone. I don’t think you even know yet, which is that this podcast has been listened to on every continent. 

Veren: oh wow. I think that’s really cool, that is cool, that’s great. I mean, you know, that’s good news. 

Sam: Yeah, that’s so I saw that the other day and I thought that was pretty exciting. 

I like seeing where everyone is around the world. It’s very cool so hi to everyone wherever you are!

So to get right into things going off our continued tradition of reading some listener feedback. I want to share feedback we got actually like back in April, but we weren’t sharing feedback on the podcast yet.

So this feedback comes from Rachel. She says, “I was just listening to episode 2. I was just thinking something I’d love to hear about just a humble listener’s request. Feel free to ignore an episode of each of the places you’ve stayed. I like listening to stories about traveling right now since I can’t travel myself and it somehow takes me outside.”

Thanks so much for that feedback Rachel! 

Like I said, she sent this to me back in early April, right after we had just started and now we do have episodes like that and in case you haven’t listened we have alternative destinations series which is when we’re going to be doing exactly that: highlighting different alternative destinations we’ve been to. These aren’t places you’ve never heard of but maybe places you’ve never thought of traveling before. 

As travel moves forward, we really want to encourage people to go to not the same destination, so we hope to kind of peak your interest in different alternative destinations. 

We’re also doing our vegan foodie series which are kind of like virtual food tours of different places. we just did our first one on Salt Lake City a couple episodes back and we’re going to be continuing to do those so if you have any requests for places that you’d like to hear about –  obviously we’re only going to do ones that are places we actually been to. But yeah just send us a message, we’d love to hear what places you’d like to hear about. We hope that it also provides you some, you know, virtual vicarious travel right now while everyone is still hopefully being safe and just chilling at home. So thanks again to Rachel for this comment. 

With that in mind again, we want to mention that we are going to be creating a patreon community in the future and we’d love to hear your feedback about what kind of stuff you’d like to hear or see in there we want to create a place to engage and be connected because all of the feedback that I’ve been sharing has been sent directly to me via social media or email so we think it’d be great to have a central place for everyone to interact instead.

Veren: Yeah, just a reminder of what Patreon is for those you who might not know. Patreon is an online platform and website and for creators who want to connect on a deeper level with their fans readers listeners. It’s a place where you can provide financial support and also have an opportunity as a fan to maybe get more involved in the creative process behind the content that the creator you are following is doing. 

Sam: Yeah definitely because we’re just starting obviously and it will be a place where people are able to shape the direction of the podcast. We talk about different kinds of things like that, so we’re really excited about it we’re just putting out feelers here. 

So in today’s episode we want to talk all about Airbnb. We want to with our podcast and these episodes encourage people to think differently about travel. We’re all about alternative travel and think more critically, think more responsibly about your travel.

Now is the perfect time to revisit your travel habits now that everyone’s not really traveling right now. So we’re not as invested in our travel habits because we’re not traveling. It’s a little easier to take a step back and look at these things with a more critical eye when you’re not planning a trip right now. 

Airbnb is a big topic. We’ve mentioned it in some other episodes, but we really wanted to have a dedicated episode just looking all about Airbnb. So with that, what is Airbnb for anyone who might not be familiar with the platform? 

What is Airbnb?

Veren: Airbnb is a platform where a host can essentially offer their place or a room in their place to provide accommodations to travelers. The marketing promotion kind of tagline behind Airbnb is “live like a local.” So the idea is that someone can stay in a local’s apartment and experience their accommodation from the perspective of a resident. 

So in practice, it can actually be quite a few different things. On the most humble level it might be someone’s room in their two bedroom apartment that they rent out. Or it can end up being several properties that are owned by somebody and they’re used exclusively as Airbnbs. We’re gonna get into that much more in detail. 

Sam: Yeah and Airbnb also has now even gone further than accommodation.  Now they have Airbnb experiences where you can book a tour with a local or do all kinds of different things. Now they have Airbnb luxury which are fancy properties.

They’re huge. They’re in cities throughout the world. I don’t know exactly how many. In theory, I think it’s a good idea. A local rents out their extra room, they get spare money, you interact with the local, it’s great for everyone. Maybe that was how it was in the beginning. 

Well, that is how it was in the beginning. I’ve been using Airbnb since probably 2011, 2012 and my experiences back then were very different from more recent Airbnb experiences. One of my first Airbnb experiences was in Krakow, Poland. It was a Polish woman who had recently moved to Paris and she was just renting out her apartment for the rest of her lease. Her mom was the one who showed us in and it was a really cute place. It was affordable and whatever so that felt really nice. But more recently, it’s just has become just a way to make money. 

We want to be very clear that we’re not demonizing Airbnb. The things we’re gonna talk about, there’re many different reasons for why Airbnb has become problematic and it’s really a very complicated issue.

That being said, we have a lot of problems with how Airbnb has played out – the whole Airbnb effect. 

So what does that basically mean Veren? 

What is the Airbnb Effect?

Veren: In a nutshell, Airbnb has dramatically affected the fabric of local communities around the world and has contributed in a lot of ways to overtourism. That’s something that we’re going to break down further in detail. It’s a very complex issue with a lot of moving parts. 

Sam: What are some of the moving parts?

Veren: Well one example of the problems that airBnB creates in local communities with this live like a local whole thing is that it actually ends up displacing locals. We’ve heard about this, read about this, and we’ve also experienced it second-hand. We helped out a friend and gave him and his girlfriend a place to stay because he got kicked out of his rental unit. The landlord essentially realized that he could make more money if he rented out that second bedroom on Airbnb. 

Sam: Yeah that’s really important to point out because a lot of people think that Airbnb is only taking away residences from locals if it’s a whole apartment that’s rented out. That’s obviously a huge problem that we’re gonna get into, but it’s not just whole apartments that’s the problem. 

Some people think it’s ethical to use Airbnb, just make sure you’re renting out a room with a local. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that that room hasn’t displaced someone.  With our friend, his roommate was also his landlord and is basically like “yeah, I’m kicking you out. I’m turning this room into an Airbnb.” That sucks. So in places where there’s a housing shortage, Airbnb exacerbates the issue.  

Veren: Yeah, it’s important to say that it’s not like if Airbnb were to disappear from the face of the planet tomorrow, there wouldn’t still be a housing shortage and housing problems. But Airbnb makes a worse problem, that’s already there and compounds it and accelerates it. 

Sam: Yeah this happened in Madrid, which is not usually touted as an overtouristed destination. Usually you hear about Barcelona, Venice, Amsterdam, Bali, places like that. Madrid definitely doesn’t receive the level of tourists that those places do, but they still receive a lot of tourists. it’s the capital of Spain. There’s an international airport with very cheap flights coming from all over Europe and there’s a historic center everyone wants to stay in.

It’s really a complicated issue and this also goes back to that we’re not trying to demonize that landlord either necessarily. If he had a job that paid him a living wage he wouldn’t have to look towards his own apartment as a way to make a living. But Spain has really high unemployment and the employment that exists has terrible wages, so that’s another issue. 

Veren: Yeah it seems to be a huge pattern amongst what is called the gig economy. a lot of the proponents of the gig economy like to tout how it gives people more power and access to resources to make more money. but I’ve also heard on the other end that this economy exists because of the big recession we had back in 2008-2009.  So many people have to look for side hustles because of their current employment or lack of employment. They’re not able to cover the bills people are going to go to where they can make money. 

Unfortunately in a lot of these gig economy gigs, the companies act as you know, software agents, so to speak. They don’t treat anyone that they’re working with as employees. So then they’re able to basically have a workforce with less rights and they don’t have to take care of them in the way that a more corporate conventional model has to provide benefits to employees. 

So a lot of times Airbnb, Uber, DoorDash say, “oh, We’re just creating the software and everyone who’s involved in this whole exchange is just using our software.” Because of that they’re able to skirt a lot of issues in terms of worker rights and regulation and that’s how you get issues like this where almost anybody can start an Airbnb. Then you also have more extremes where in Barcelona you could have people buying out floors from buildings and just turning those units into quick cheap easy Airbnb units. This affects the local culture as well. 

Airbnb’s Effect on Affordable Housing and Local Communities

Sam: Yeah, I was actually just reading an article in The Guardian yesterday about that exact thing happening in Barcelona. It was a neighborhood and I’ll link the article in the show notes.

I have a lot of resources to link in the show notes, but in this article in particular, they were interviewing people in a neighborhood in Barcelona, which was not usually a place that tourists tended to stay; there weren’t a lot of hotels there. There weren’t necessarily that many tourist attractions there but it was becoming cool, so investors started buying properties and individual landlords started renting out places on Airbnb. It totally changed the fabric of the community because all of a sudden you don’t know your neighbors anymore. 

Community is such a big part of Spanish culture and life. Not knowing your neighbors for New Yorkers, that’s just normal, but in Spain that’s a big deal and not just that but now a lot of businesses in areas where there are an increasing number of Airbnb units, businesses that would cater to locals, you know, grocery stores clothing repair stores stuff like that that locals would use, go out of business and in their place businesses catering to tourists pop up. 

Veren: Yeah so a personal example that we can give from our own experience was when we lived in Madrid, being in a place that gets so many tourists dramatically affects the community. It’s kind of ironic because you’re traveling in this way in an Airbnb to “live like a local” but what is the place when you displace all the locals and all the local businesses and instead a Starbucks goes up? 

It’s only tourists that are existing there and the minority are actual locals. What are you visiting now? What has that place become? It’s like a former shell of itself; that culture has essentially been eradicated. Then you just have Starbucks chains, McDonalds. Why are you going there in the first place? Now it might as well just be another open-air Disneyland. 

When we were there, we could see that and feel that happening, you know, when you’re walking down a street, and most of the people are tourists with little wheely bags. It dramatically changes how it feels to be there. It’s not just an aesthetic thing. It leads to what people are interested in and what they want to patronize. So you end up having local communities that are quieter at night because they’re mostly residential, now you have people there who may be partying late at night. 

This is their weekend bender, bachelorette, or bachelor party, whatever. It just changes the feel of the place now. You mostly have the bodies of tourists taking up space and creating noise pollution. This has been a complaint amongst many locals. 

A really great video on this – we will have to try to find a link –  was focused on Portugal and in Lisbon, the Capital of Portugal. The interviewer was talking to locals about this and just how they’re seeing all these local businesses disappear and just being swamped with tourists. It sucks for them but I’d also argue once this happens, once you can do your research and see as a responsible tourist or responsible traveler that this is happening somewhere, why do you still want to go there? What are you going to see anymore other than a former shell of what this place used to be? 

Sam: Yeah, exactly. I think that’s important to point out because living like a local isn’t living like a local anymore when the locals can’t afford to live in that neighborhood. And that article I referenced earlier, one of the people that was interviewed was a young Spanish man and he was living with his mom and his sister and his sister’s baby and him and his girlfriend wanted to move out and get their own place. But they couldn’t because prices had gone up so much. The neighborhood had changed because of all the tourism to the point where they didn’t wouldn’t necessarily want to live there anymore because it had become so full of tourists and like Veren said that just changes the feel of a neighborhood. This is the neighborhood he had grown up in; he loved the neighborhood. But they could not afford to move out and live. 

That’s why when we lived in Madrid, we liked living still very centrally but just like not in a touristy neighborhood at all. Times when we’ve stayed in more touristy neighborhoods, you can just feel the presence of tourists all the time and that’s not what we enjoy.

Veren: Yeah, even in Madrid there are certain areas, buildings that are just all Airbnbs. One of the appeals of Airbnb is that you’re not staying in hotels, you’re living in a residential neighborhood. From the person using Airbnb, it makes sense. I mean, we don’t like staying in hotels. 

Sam: Also they’re expensive. But that’s because when you’re booking an Airbnb, you’re not paying the real cost of that place because Airbnbs aren’t regulated like the hotel industry is. Anyone can just list a room on Airbnb basically and you’re not seeing the cost of your presence there. Maybe you’re thinking “oh well, I’m a really respectful traveler. I’m not having an impact.” 

That’s probably true. I would wager guess if you’re listening to this podcast. But at the same time, I also think this podcast is about the individual and what you can do to always be a more responsible traveler and that might mean not contributing to these things that have a harmful impact on the communities that you’re visiting. 

So to that point, we mentioned regulation a few times. As something that can be done to kind of stop the Airbnb tide, so to speak. So what would that maybe look like Veren? 

Veren: So an example we can give and again these aren’t immediate perfect solutions but they are steps in the right direction. Now for example in Portland, they have a whole system in place that if you want to put up an Airbnb you can’t do it right away, you have to wait. There’s a waiting period and they send over an inspector to make sure that safety guidelines are being followed. because again these are strict things that hotels have to follow. for example having a carbon monoxide detector or making sure that there’s fire escapes. This isn’t required in a bedroom of someone else’s house or an entire unit that they might rent out for Airbnb. 

Sam: Yeah that actually reminds me. I’ve read about stories of people being injured by staying at Airbnbs or even dying because of certain unsafe conditions at an Airbnb.  this is the minority of people staying at an Airbnb, we’re not saying you stay at an Airbnb you’re gonna die. Of course you could stay in a hotel and something could happen to you But hotels are gonna do everything possible because they have regulations. 

Airbnb’s aren’t regulated. There’s pretty much very little that can happen if something happens to you in an Airbnb because there weren’t the right proper safety precautions in place or whatever. So yeah, that’s an important point to bring up. 

Veren: Yeah so continuing with the Portland Oregon example, they have to have that inspector come in to make sure places are safe, up to code etc. They also only limit one Airbnb unit per resident and it has to be a residence that you live in. 

So for example, you can’t own three properties and make two of them Airbnbs. So that’s an example of how Airbnb should be limited. If you’re going to turn an entire residential neighborhood into an Airbnb, that’s so detrimental to the community and people trying to look for affordable housing. Whereas a hotel for example, there’s different kinds of zoning for different kinds of buildings. So with the hotel, there’s a reason they’re built where they are. Yes, they’re not the most exciting places. It’s why we generally don’t want to end up at them. 

I think many people believe in it when you’re a resident of somewhere, you don’t want to just all of a sudden have your neighborhood dramatically change without your consent. Now there’s some problems with that in terms of neighborhood organizations and affordable housing and that’s a different subject but in general what I’m trying to refer to is that where you want to live you want it hopefully to be a place that’s livable and Airbnb can dramatically change that. 

So on some level there needs to be some kind of regulation done and this example in Portland we think is a good one, but again, it depends on the place. Portland gets tourism but probably not tourism on the level of a place like Barcelona. 

Sam: Yeah it’s also not dense. I think Airbnb is a problem in so many European cities because these historic centers are not being built anymore, so they’re finite, they’re a limited, small area that was built for before cars existed. They’re cute and pretty everyone wants to go there. That’s what people want to go to Europe to see these places. They want to stay there, they want to live like a local, they want to stay in a cute little apartment in the center and feel like they’re living the European dream. 

But that dream is coming at a cost of someone else that could be living there. I just wouldn’t feel personally good about staying in a place knowing that me being there has potentially displaced someone else. Respecting the place that you’re going to is respecting residents. 

A lot of these European cities –  maybe most of them honestly – are experiencing housing shortages because as more and more people move to cities because of job opportunities, stuff like that, finding housing is really hard. Many millions of people travel to Europe every year and so many people aren’t thinking about these things unfortunately. 

And that’s why we keep referring to certain European cities. Spain is the second tourist destination in the world after Italy, I believe. Well, the top 3 are France, Italy and Spain, I forget the exact order of them. But I believe Spain is number two, so obviously it’s a big part of their economy and it’s a really important part of their economy. That’s why we’re seeing now that they want to open things back up again to tourists because they need tourist money.

And Airbnb says, oh we create jobs for locals, but it’s kind of like what Veren goes back to about the gig economy. How good is that option? Maybe there should be other options, which is why I think it’s interesting that Spain is trialling a basic income. Maybe we’ll see if that changes things; that would be great.

Veren: Again, we’re not trying to say that this all falls on the shoulders of tourists and travelers and consumers. But you need to look at your part in this. It’s a vast network web of things and  it’s where we get our attitude towards veganism. 

We want to put our dollars where our values are, put our money where our mouth is, so to speak.  All these alternative products in the vegan world wouldn’t exist without that pressure, without that interest, without the people making that demand through their consumption.

The way a lot of People treat travel is another form of consumption and definitely these industries treat it that way. Unfortunately when the demand gets so high there’s so much money to be made. The people who live there really should be the priority, but instead it becomes the tourists well-being that becomes a priority. 

We’ve seen that in cities like in Florence where it just feels like it’s designed for tourists and when you go around the corner from the pretty main streets or whatever it looks like it’s falling apart. Then when you go outside the city, where we stayed in a house sit, there was so much construction going on, all these things being done. It just didn’t feel like the city cared about its actual residents.

What Kind of Regulation is Happening Around Airbnb?

Sam: A lot of the regulation that’s happening is in Spain and I think that is because Spain does really prioritize its residents and community.

There’s so much public space, they redo old buildings and make them into public spaces not just like a shopping mall or something so like that. 

In Barcelona, I just read an article about how now there’s so many vacant apartments because the tourists aren’t there, so Barcelona just announced that owners of vacant apartments have a certain amount of time and they have to fill those apartments or Barcelona’s gonna seize them and turn them into affordable housing. That’s amazing, that’s awesome. I hope all the Airbnbs are seized and turned into affordable housing. I don’t know the exact specifics. I will link that article in the show notes if you’re interested but I thought that was great. There are also things to limit Airbnb. Like you can’t own more than X amount of apartments and rent them out for short periods. 

They’re doing a lot because like I said Barcelona is really impacted with overtourism. We actually have a friend who lives there and she’s really enjoying the city now that there’s no tourists there. 

Another Spanish city that’s doing things is the city of Palma, which is in Mallorca one of the Balearic Islands. I think they might have entirely banned them. It’s an island where people go there to party and so it was really problematic. Palma has also been on the forefront Amsterdam, they’re limiting if not outright banning Airbnbs in their historic center.

So a lot of these European cities are really taking stock right now that they’re seeing all these vacant apartments and trying to turn things around. Because obviously this is not a new thing. Airbnb has been around since I believe like 2008- 2009, which that’s only like 10-ish years. That’s kind of shocking, seems like it’s been around forever. 

These problems have been brought up these problems have been brought up with them countless times by countless cities and Airbnb has a really shitty attitude towards it, obviously, because they don’t want anything to affect their bottom line. They just want to weasel their way out of any responsibility of looking into all of their listings, if they’re legal or not. Because these regulations are one thing to have them but it’s another thing for them to be enforced. 

for example, New York City again has a housing crisis there. Technically you’re not allowed to rent out a place for less than 30 days, I believe. but obviously there are tons of Airbnbs in New York rented out for less than 30 days. so it’s about enforcement as well. 

Veren: Yeah. A nice gentleman that was cutting my hair one time – a great thing in New York is you can be a haircut model. basically it’s for people learning and they’re usually towards the end of their training, so it’s not like you’re going there and getting your head butchered – but yeah this guy who’s cutting my hair was telling me that he had to rent out his place.

It’s insane at the cost of living there, so it’s not as simple as just demonizing the situation or demonizing the people or demonizing airbnb. He was like yeah, you know, I’ve only been able to make ends meet by renting out my room as an Airbnb.  so I’m guessing this guy probably maybe stayed in his living room. People jump at the opportunity to find cheap accommodation when they travel to New York City, of course because everything else is so expensive, so I mean it again, it’s a complex issue. 

But yeah, you’re not supposed to be doing that but he was and probably still is until you know, the pandemic hit. Over tourism it’s the way a lot of this is because of successful tourism marketing campaigns, they kind of shot themselves in the foot and unfortunately took the tragedy of the pandemic that happened for them to see oh now we can kind of look and see how things are differently.

What’s Airbnb’s Role in Gentrification and Racial Disparity?

Sam: Yeah, well while we’re on the topic of New York, obviously the housing crisis in New York you could have a whole podcast on that. I’m sure people do. But to talk about it with Airbnb, I came across a very insightful study by a organization called Inside Airbnb and they did a study of Airbnb in New York and they found that there was a huge racial disparity in listings.

So they looked at neighborhoods across New York and the Airbnb hosts and the fabric of the community and what they found was that in black neighborhoods the hosts were five times more likely to be white. 

In these predominantly black neighborhoods, eighty five eighty percent African American, that were like fourteen percent white but Airbnb hosts were like 75% White. So basically without all the numbers involved, In majority black neighborhoods majority, there were a majority of white hosts. And majority white Airbnb customers. 

So that speaks to a number of things which is obviously being able to own property in the first place. That’s a privilege but also literally like benefiting and capitalizing off of the coolness factor of these neighborhoods like Harlem or Bushwick in Brooklyn Bushwick in particular was where this disparity was the greatest because Bushwick has been an industrial artist neighborhood. It’s where people could afford to live because it was junky with shitty lofts or whatever.  Artists moved there and then it became cool. It’s still predominantly a black neighborhood but tourists want to stay there. Well, alternative tourists want to stay there. 

Veren: I mean, if you’re going to want to spend your Times Square, you’re not going to go there because it’s in Brooklyn. But people who want to do this live like a local travel want to live there. And stay there. But it’s again tearing apart the fabric of these communities and strikingly tearing apart the fabric of particularly like black communities, so.

Obviously that’s a tremendous problem, obviously there’s many facets to that but I can guarantee you that Airbnb hosts and people staying there they’re not benefiting that local community, actually. It’s almost kind of exploitative and it’s extractive so who knows if that money being pulled out there because of that coolness of the neighborhood all that money that’s being made is not going back into the community. 

I mean this points to a larger issue of gentrification and gentrification again, you could probably find whole podcasts on this it’s multifaceted it’s not as simple as white people moving into brown and black neighborhoods, there’s so many factors that play there’s a great book on it that we’ve read called Generation Priced Out which explains all the different you know faces of this problem.

It varies a bit per city and unfortunately communities that are being capitalized on essentially, if there was some kind of accountability where a certain percentage of profits has to go right back into the community, then maybe we could have a different situation here. But as of now that doesn’t seem to be the case whatsoever and a lot of this stuff until someone writes about it, it kind of is invisible other than black people in their neighborhoods looking around and being like, “where are all these white people are coming from?” 

So living in New York city, we’ve seen this issue just in terms of gentrification and a lot of times it’s hard to tell if those are people that are just transplants moving in part of the gentrification waves or if they’re tourists. It kind of has that innocuous quality to it or not so innocuous quality it’s just kind of insidious, you know, and you can’t just pin it on or demonize or blame or find a villain for that one problem. 

As soon as someone’s trying to point out a villain it oversimplifies the problem. That doesn’t mean to cut any slack to a corporation like Airbnb. These entities that wield a ton of power should be held accountable by the people they affect: their workers and the customers.

Sam: Yeah, we’re not gonna have an episode on gentrification, but this is our way to kind of insert that. So the last example of regulation that I want to point out is related to protecting communities and places that have a strong emphasis on community. Japan a couple years ago rolled out sweeping Airbnb laws and then specific municipalities had different Airbnb laws. So there’s an overarching law that is you have to provide a record of everyone that stays in your Airbnb,  you can only have X amount of days listed, you can only do all these things. But then certain municipalities have specific laws. 

One city was like, you can’t rent out your place on Airbnb during the week in certain areas because they don’t want children coming across strangers on their way to school.I thought that was the cutest thing ever, they care about their kids so much they don’t want their kids to come across random ass tourists on their way to school. 

Veren:  yeah in case you don’t know this but I think there might have been a video making the rounds. It’s very typical for Japanese families to send their little kids solo to school. That’s how much they trust in the safety of their communities, so it’s not unheard of, it’s not a crazy thing to see an eight-year-old riding a train to school. I mean, I’ve seen that in New York City too, maybe there’s a couple of them together and it would be quite a wonderful world if we could give that kind of level of responsibility to our children and not have to worry about them. 

Sam: Yeah definitely. Then another city was like you have to have a caretaker of the property  live within ten minutes of that property. So that minimizes investors who just buy up whole blocks. I mean, obviously they could still pay someone to live nearby or whatever, but it just makes it more difficult for those things to happen. 

Veren: It also forces you to involve local people and have more of a connection to the places that you’re doing business. It’s just gonna give more accountability. it’s gonna give more access to this person being held accountable to the community. 

What can We Do As Responsible Travelers?: Alternatives to Airbnb

Sam: Yeah, so with that, what can we do as travelers? We’ve kind of said a few times in this episode that we don’t think it’s a blanket:never use Airbnb. But I think in certain places you need to do your research and see if there’s a housing crisis to see if Airbnbs had been an issue. 

You need to do your research. When you’re looking at places to stay in a particular place. I mean, hopefully, you know, you’re just making it part of your research. It’s literally as easy as googling like Airbnb X place problems something like that because otherwise you’ll just get all the Airbnb listings. But just look into it. Like I said in European cities, it’s really problematic. For the reasons we already talked about places where there’s housing issues, it just exacerbates that issue. So I wouldn’t recommend using Airbnb in historic European cities or places where it’s a known issue.

It’s a different thing to rent out someone’s room when you’re road tripping. Maybe you’re staying at a place in the countryside and the person has a big house and they rent out an extra room or whatever. That’s not displacing anyone. 

Veren: Yes, just look at the situation. Wherever you want to go. I’d say a good way to look at it is the actual original bed and breakfast model, I mean, if they’re more or less running a situation like that, is it really so terrible to contribute to that, you know, again, there’s no catch-all for this it means doing a little bit more legwork in terms of your research. 

 but there can be positive experiences. For example, when we were in Berlin, we found a place to stay that was well outside the center but it was close enough via bike shares and basically the guy’s room that we were paying for was just gonna be gone for a little bit of a trip. They were just trying to make sure they could still cover their rent. It was a house of about four or five people sharing and we met the person, we talked about it. They were very explicit about their situation, this is not some room that they were constantly airbnbing out on a regular and then living on the couch so that they can make their rent. They just figured, well if I’m gonna be gone for a week and a half two weeks, might as well make that difference up. 

It worked out really great and it was really interesting experience to be there because we got to talk to the other roommates and they were more than happy to share stuff about the city and their favorite places to go and visit and maybe that’s what Airbnb used to be or maybe that’s what still is happening here and there. But without the research without the accountability and the regulation in place you can’t expect Airbnb to do that for you.

You kind of have to look in the things yourself and I mean we do these kind of things all the time with purchases on some level, you know, you go to a store to buy something, you make sure it doesn’t have like a hole in the package or a seal’s broken, you know things that are seemingly simple but just being more conscious consumers. 

Sam:  Yeah exactly. In that example, we just messaged him and had a conversation and he was a real person. you can kind of tell in listings the ones that are investor owned. They look designed for Airbnb. They have super nice furniture and everything’s done with perfect professional photos. 

I mean, we’re not saying to stay in a dump obviously. the place we stayed at in Berlin was super nice and it was really cheap because he was just trying to cover his rent. But Just look at some listings and talk to the person and get the feel for what the deal is. 

That being said we try not to use Airbnb that much and especially in places where we know it’s a critical issue. I’d rather just not go to that place honestly if I can’t afford the accommodation. Why go there then? So et that maybe help you figure out where to go and that will guide you to different places. 

Airbnb likes to call itself part of the sharing economy. I think it’s kind of gotten away from that a bit and actual sharing economy things that you can use would be like house sitting. Obviously we love house sitting. We are normally full-time house sitters. 

We love it so much it’s just an exchange. Someone is leaving their house for a trip. We stay there while they’re gone and take care of their pets. It’s pretty straightforward. you’re not displacing anyone. Or you can do couch surfing. That’s another way to interact with locals if you want to have that interaction with locals. Try couch surfing because then no money is involved so they weren’t trying to rent that place out anyway. We’ve done some couch surfing. I’ve done a lot of it and that’s great. 

You could also do a home swap. That’s something we’ve never done because we don’t have a home but if you have one, you could swap your home. That could be really cool. Someone stays in your place. Obviously there’s trust involved, but there’s trust involved with Airbnb too.

I think it’s gotten away from that because it has gotten away from the sharing economy. so it’s become less about that trust and has become more transactional. Apart from the sharing economy stuff that you could do, go back to basics: stay in a hotel, stay in a hostel, stay in a B&B, like an actual bed and breakfast.

And I know that a lot of bed and breakfasts actually list on Airbnb as a way to increase their visibility, so I totally understand that. And I’m absolutely not faulting any bed and breakfast owner for listing on there when they can get more bookings that way. But actual bed and breakfasts will abide by hotel regulations and stuff like that. Like we have been saying, it is a complicated issue. I’m not saying delete Airbnb from your phone, never use it again, but use it consciously and mindfully look into all of these things. And choose other options whenever possible. Got any closing statements, Veren?  

Veren: of course. I’m so glad you asked. I mean. Unfortunately it took a huge tragedy like this pandemic for these kinds of things to be highlighted a bit. To more or less give certain cities and communities a chance to try to approach these problems now that there’s not just a huge flow of money that’s drowning out their voices. but I can’t help but think one of the biggest obstacles to people trying to be more responsible travelers is that they lament the work. They say, “oh I’m going on vacation. I shouldn’t have to think about these things.”

But the world’s super connected and it’s a luxury and a privilege to be able to consume and make certain choices where you don’t have to face the consequences of them. If we’re gonna you relate it to the pandemic, you’re seeing now how people who travel however they want whenever they want that very kind of American individualistic attitude of “I get what I want when I want because I’m paying” And we’re seeing the real consequences of that. It’s become a public health crisis again because people don’t want to stay put. I understand that people don’t want to stay put, so I’m not shaming people into not wanting to do the safest thing. It’s just that we’re now seeing the consequences. 

Now it hits home. You can see how your not wanting to follow public health guidelines can actually get you sick and make you have to confront that lack of responsibility. I don’t mean to make anyone feel like I’m pointing a finger at you. But the point I want to make is now we’re seeing the real consequences of our actions. The pandemic has really kind of highlighted that it’s a shame and we shouldn’t have had to wait for that to happen, but you know, this is part of being more a conscious consumer. 

You let these things run rampant, and the world is so connected, so globalized that you can’t just wait for that to correct itself because in that process you can potentially damage whole communities and people’s livelihoods. so I can’t stress it enough. this is part of why we are alternative travelers. We want to show you that it is possible, it takes a little bit more work, but it doesn’t need to be particularly hard to be more responsible tourist and traveler

Sam: yeah, obviously there are all these other forces at play like we’ve talked about, but as an individual you can make more responsible choices. 

I saw that Airbnb has a goal of having a billion guests by 2028. So less than eight years away and they’re not thinking about how they’re impacting communities at all. They’ve had nothing but push back when it’s been addressed with them. So it’s not gonna be solved by them, that’s for sure and like we said city governments are stepping in and creating regulations but individual action can go a long way towards more sustainable and responsible options being available. 

And we are seeing more sustainable and responsible eco-friendly kinds of B&Bs pop up, so that’s that’s super cool as well. But yeah, so hope you found this episode helpful and insightful and maybe thinking about Airbnb’s role in place in future travels. 

And all right, well until next time. Thanks so much for listening. We’ll catch you later. 

Veren: Thanks for listening to all our listeners around the world.

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