30 Mar 2018

How Airbnb can build, rather than undermine, community

I am a big critic at Airbnbs scorched earth make-money-fast business model that favors transactions over community.

Airbnb can redeem itself with a few simple steps:
  • Share data with governments that want to know who is renting their places and how much they are making. These steps will reduce the problem with illegal hotels and tax evasion. (I pay taxes on Airbnb earnings despite a total lack of reporting from Airbnb's side.)
  • Contribute 10 percent of its fees to improving the local community. Airbnb collects 6-12 percent charges on transactions "to run the platform, provide customer service and pay VAT." Some of that money should go to helping the local community, e.g., cleaning walls and streets, improving lighting, etc., so that neighbors can be thankful for its presence.
  • Tell guests if hosts are following the law. In some places, hosts are required to register with their city governments, limit the number of days they can host etc. Airbnb guests do not want to be part of law-breaking, so show them that hosts are registered and following rules. Airbnb's website is a bit of a disaster to navigate, but it should not be hard to provide cities with an API-interface that will feed official data to profiles.
  • Build community. Airbnb should make it easy for guests to have dinner with their hosts. When rooms are being rented, this is easy (assuming it's also not a mini-hotel), but in other cases, it's not so easy. Dinner with the host would help people connect to the people and city they are visiting (as was common with Couchsurfing). Some hosts don't want to talk to guests (and vice-versa), but Airbnb can help those who do want to connect.
Bottom line: This TEDx by one of Airbnb's founders is pretty cringy, but let's assume he meant it when he asked "did we just discover it was possible to make friends while also making rent?" If he did, then he -- and Airbnb -- should work harder at helping people make friends instead of doing their utmost to undermine communities.