Sharing economy: Airbnb tries to put out the fires
Airbnb is the latest technology giant forced to “reckon with the unintended consequences of how people use” its platform, said David Yaffe-Bellany in The New York Times. The home-sharing company announced last week that it “plans to conduct a comprehensive review” of all 7 million of its listings, verifying “photographs, addresses, and other information posted with each property.” The announcement came after a shooting killed five people at a party in an Airbnb rental in California, and a report by Vice about a rental scam in which Airbnb guests were notified about an “emergency” before their intended stay and rebooked at a much dingier property. The news comes as Airbnb faces backlash from critics who question how effectively the platform monitors bad actors and who say the company pushes “unruly tourists into residential areas.”
Jersey City, N.J., became the latest city to crack down after voters last week backed “strict short-term rental regulations,” said Paris Martineau in Wired.com. Airbnb spent $4.2 million “blanketing Jersey City in television ads, handouts, and pro-Airbnb canvassers”; New York’s hotel union poured in resources on the other side. While other cities have put limits on Airbnb, this defeat especially stings because Airbnb saw its relationship with Jersey City as “an exemplary partnership.” In 2015, Jersey City legalized short-term rentals in exchange for an annual occupancy tax. That attracted investors who saw an opportunity to rent places right outside New York “without running afoul of New York’s tight rules on short-term rentals.”
Don’t take the opposition to Airbnb at face value, said David Freddoso in WashingtonExaminer.com. The “hotel industry and its moribund unions” have “spread the message that Airbnb is either going to ruin your neighborhood or take away your job or make your rent go up.” Airbnb’s foes hope to justify “anti-homeowner and anti–property rights ordinances” with claims about “wild parties, deaths, murders, and other mayhem.” Yes, one reality show contestant got himself “tased and arrested” at an Airbnb in Los Angeles. So what? John Belushi, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Whitney Houston all died in hotels. “Do you feel worse about hotels now?” Investors aren’t bothered by the attacks on Airbnb—they’re jostling to get in on it, said Miles Kruppa in the Financial Times. The company isn’t public yet, but investors are flocking to buy “the right to proceeds from future IPO sales.” The price investors are paying for those rights indicates that Airbnb could be worth about $42 billion.
Airbnb presented itself as “a virtuous disrupter: a new and more efficient way of doing things that comes in and sweeps away an old and sclerotic order,” said Jeff Spross in TheWeek.com. It was supposed to be an open marketplace where travelers and hosts could find each other. Now that’s becoming increasingly untenable. Airbnb now says that the “hands-off” model is “not really enough.” But wasn’t it the hands-off model that was supposed to make the sharing economy better? Without it, there’s not much left. “We already have an industry that specializes in providing short-term rentals to travelers: the hotel industry.” ■