Since its founding in August 2008, Airbnb has outgrown its competitors, some of which it has acquired, becoming to lodging and accommodation what Google is to search engines and Uber to shipping: a world’s leader in the market. As of this moment, its website lists 1,500,000+ entries in 40,000+ cities in as much as 200 countries, allowing people to rent properties as varied as rooms, apartments, houses, manors, palaces, castles, islands, tree houses, tipis, and igloos. To toss one more number, its estimated worth is, as of now, about $30 billion US Dollars, $10 billion more than in 2015 and $20 billion more than in 2014.
In this case, however, it’s not about the numbers: it’s the concerns that matter the most. The controversies surrounding Airbnb range from discrimination concerns to financial, legal, and tax liabilities to incidents and security problems. Therefore, it’s no surprise that this Californian startup has become a matter of an international debate. And, since it’s the billions that are on the line there, it’s even less of a surprise that it’s quite a heated one.
Amidst all this, it’s hard to believe that Airbnb’s beginnings were humble indeed: as humble as the beginnings can be.
The Humble Beginnings
The beginnings were humble. That’s a fact.
Although Airbnb – dubbed “AirBed & Breakfast” back then – was founded in 2008, the initial concept was first presented to the public during IDSA’s Industrial Design Conference in 2007. The founders were Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia – two Californian internet entrepreneurs, who found themselves unable to afford the rent after moving in to a loft in San Francisco. To make it, the two have turned their living room into a bed & breakfast, providing air mattresses to up to three guests, who were also served a homemade breakfast.
The idea of online lodging platform came up as a natural extension.
A Modern Traveler’s Must-Have Tool
If you happen to travel, if you happen to do it a lot, you’re more than sure to know it: Airbnb is a must-have tool. Truth be told, I can no longer imagine going places without it. The amount of research one had to do before he could book his tickets and depart was tremendous. Now, the journey is just a click – well, a couple clicks – away.
In case you don’t know, the process is simple. Once you’ve registered on the Airbnb’s website, once your account has been validated, you can begin to look for the accommodation (or guests, if you happen to be a host.) Your profile includes details on you and your previous lodgings: another users’ reviews, social connections, recommendations, etc. It’s like a social media site, only much more useful. And if this comparison doesn’t work for you, it can also be compared to an online auction house or even online shop (like, for example, Amazon.)
The hosts can add photos of their rooms and apartments, describe them, their neighborhood, set the prices, amenities, house rules. Guests who were accommodated at their houses can then leave a comment and rate the place. Thus, it’s important for the hosts to provide the best conditions of accommodation possible. Else, their reputation can suffer.
The obvious pro is that the use of Airbnb saves your time you’d spend on doing research otherwise. The obvious con is that it disencourages you from doing so, making you reliable on the platform and the tools it provides.
Among the pros, it’s worth to mention that the search terms are customizable based on numerous variables. For example, you can look for an ideal neighborhood based on filters such as Great Transit, Dining, Peace & Quiet, Nightlife, Touristy, and Shopping. Though the option is not available for all the places, it’s good it’s included.
As I have mentioned, there’s quite a lot of these. The controversies. I am listing them below:
Discrimination. There are cases of both gender and racial discrimination when renting a room.
Incidents. Though Airbnb offers an insurance, calling it a host guarantee, the incidents are a problem nonetheless. That being said, hosts can also be a problem, as there are reports of guests being assaulted.
Financial, legal, and tax liabilities are Airbnb’s main problem so far. The reason is obvious: in different countries the law also do differ. Furthermore, in most countries one do need a permit to rent – or short-term rent – his room, flat, or apartment. As of now, several big cities have come up with an enforcement response to find and punish those who rent their properties illegally. The problem is biggest in Spain. The list of the particular cities include Austin, Berlin, New York, San Francisco, and Quebec.
The problems in Israel. Airbnb was added to the BDS list following numerous media reports that accommodation listings included settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories, advertised as being in Israel.
All in All
Though the controversies are there, it’s hard to imagine that a tool as useful as Airbnb would stir up none. All in all, it’s still on the pros’ side, rather than cons’. Furthermore, one can’t help but be amazed by the impressive growth of this eight-year old now startup. It’s impressive how its creators have beaten their competitors. Starting from a scratch, it’s not an easy feat to pull off.