Airbnb was the epitome of sharing economy cool when it first started out, but it has lost its founding aspirations as it increasingly turns into a giant accommodation distribution for private landlord empires.
As Airbnb begins to face stronger regulatory headwinds around the world – with Singapore becoming the latest city to make it illegal to rent out private residences for short-term rentals – it’s hardly surprising that the home-sharing giant is seeking new ways to grow by broadening the range of services it can offer.
Enter Airbnb Trips, which was launched last November to enable locals to offer immersive and authentic guided tours to travellers, which could range from a lesson in ancient pottery in Tokyo to checking out London’s burlesque scene with a showgirl.
Still in its early days, Airbnb Trips is currently a modest service featuring some 500 experiences in 12 cities, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, Miami, Detroit, Havana, London, Paris, Florence, Nairobi, Cape Town, Tokyo and Seoul. The new product is expected to be rolled out to another 39 cities in the near future.
Source: Asian Trails
Do tour operators have reason for worry? Not yet, if going by trade feedback (see page 5), and industry members largely welcome the increased competition as they join in the reinvention game.
But Airbnb Trips, like how its accommodation rental arm has demonstrated, could potentially face the same regulatory complications in its quest to be a holistic travel service provider. One foreseeable issue is the special licence requirement for tour guiding in many countries, an area many incumbents in the tour operation space have invested in to stay legal and professional.
And to make this business model profitable, Airbnb will need to scale up its Trips endeavour for millions of tourists to participate. And when that happens, how can Airbnb screen against scams and rip-offs or ensure the safety of guests partaking in riskier activities? More importantly, will it be able to sustain its identity and the social value its service purports to bring?
Airbnb was the epitome of sharing economy cool when it started out, but it has lost its founding aspirations as it increasingly turns into a giant accommodation distribution for private landlord empires. I’m saying that because friends who are Airbnb hosts are typically not renting out an empty room but an idle apartment(s) in their buy-to-let portfolios, while some are even relying on companies to manage their apartments on Airbnb.
Where’s the ‘live like a local’ selling point as touted by Airbnb? I’m attracted to the social promise of the sharing economy, but I’m also disappointed by the non-sharing phenomenon that is becoming more apparent for Airbnb.
But one thing for sure, the quest for enriching and engaging experiences cut across savvy travellers of all ages, so greater competition in the tour operating space may foster the development of a more mature, responsible tourism worldwide.
So will Airbnb Trips live up to its idealistic frame of the sharing economy and revolutionise the travel and tourism industry? The jury’s still out.
This article was first published in TTG Asia March 2017 issue. To read more, please view our digital edition or click here to subscribe.