Airbnb embraces short-term distraction

The UK government is very busy at the moment and not just with the bin fire which is its economic policy. In addition to not appreciating that the markets want to see your workings (just like GCSE, and not just to prove you didn’t copy and paste from a think-tank policy) it has also been investigating into how to deal with the limitless joy that is the sharing economy.

A little while back we had an illuminating chat with Merilee Karr, founder & CEO, UnderTheDoormat Group and Chairperson, UK Short Term Accommodation Association on this search for knowledge, which you can listen to here.

And the upshot is that we need to be able to see the beast. Airbnb was happy to agree, commenting  that: “data captured by the register would enable local authorities to identify and take action against bad actors, and inform planning and taxation decisions around local housing. The data can also help local authorities better understand tourism infrastructure needs, inform future campaigns, and support bids for major events”.

So helpful. Airbnb wasn’t the only supportive player. In its submission to the recent consultation on short term lets registration (for England), UKHospitality highlights that the introduction of a registration scheme for all short-term let properties would build a fairer, safer and more sustainable industry.

Kate Nicholls, CEO of UKHospitality, said: “UKHospitality recognises and welcomes competition and a varied range of business models in the accommodation sector. However, at present there simply isn’t a level playing field across accommodation providers.

“There is a real lack of transparency around where short-term letting properties are located, how they operate and who operates them. A registration scheme, with the ability to check and enforce compliance of rules and regulations already being followed by other accommodation businesses, would fundamentally address the issue of transparency.

“We also believe that such a scheme will help to eradicate the issues currently facing certain areas of the UK where there is an imbalance in long and short-term accommodation available and will therefore go some way to building a more sustainable tourism industry in the UK.”

So we’re all in agreement, well what could be nicer? But as anyone in the middle of a debate about, say, homework or budget u-turns will tell you, early agreement is not a sign that the debate is closed. 

Airbnb goes on to guild the lily, talking about what a wonderful contribution to the world and people’s pockets is being made, with Amanda Cupples, general manager for Northern Europe at Airbnb, adding: “Hosting provides vital income to many families across Britain as the cost of living continues to rise. Clear and simple rules are good news for everyone and will help more families share their homes to boost their income, while making communities stronger.” 

It does NOT want a licensing system, which it says could risk 17,500 jobs and cost £489m to England’s economy, which is little harsh. The implementation of a more complex and expensive system such as licensing  – it says – could dissuade families from hosting, or see rising costs being passed on to guests by Hosts through price increases.

And we don’t want guests seeing that Airbnb is the same price as a hotel. Or Airbnb losing supply and freaking its shareholders out.

So here we are with that old Airbnb trope – the host who is sharing a bedroom and their homemade jam. Not only do we know that’s not the case – there are professionals out there who have never lived a day in their properties, let alone cracked out the jam-jar steriliser – but Airbnb’s current strategy leads towards the long term.

You can read Airbnb’s position paper on the UK’s call for evidence here.

In August, CEO and co-founder Brian Chesky said that long-term stays of over 28 days were the fastest-growing category for the group. We have made a vow of not mentioning d*g*t*l n*m*ds any more at NewDog, but Chesky is eager to lick them all over. And when he does, he is supporting a shift in the residential property market which is no longer about jam and cosy evenings broadening everyone’s minds around the wood burner. 

Airbnb sells itself as offering the homeowner flexibility in what they do with their asset and this is all very much in line with the mixed-used flexibility fun we’re seeing in the hotel sector. Or at least in some panels at conferences. But long term locks out residential property in a way that the occasional hen night doesn’t. And a way that hotels don’t touch. Airbnb has not seen off the regulators yet. 

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