It’s not behind you: familiar issues at Airbnb

The pandemic has presented us with a whole new Airbnb. Public listing has bought it credibility and screeds of cash and the need for isolated holidays has also bought it screeds of cash. It’s now hoping that we’ll all becoming digital nomads forever more. Bringing it screeds of cash. 

Over the summer, the group reached one billion cumulative guest arrivals and at the third-quarter results, CEO Brian Chesky said: “The world is undergoing a revolution in how we live and work. The pandemic has suddenly untethered tens of millions of people from the need to go into an office. Technologies like Zoom make it possible to work from home. Airbnb makes it possible to work from any home. And this newfound flexibility is bringing about a revolution in how we travel. Because for the first time ever, millions of people can now travel anytime, anywhere, for any length and even live anywhere on Airbnb. And we believe that this trend towards more flexibility will only accelerate.”

Hosts earned $12.8bn during the quarter and Airbnb saw revenue of $2.2bn. 

The good times are rolling, but is this the new normal for Airbnb? The Scots think not and are taking us all back to a time before we were free to roam the world, one treehouse at a time. This week saw proposals that properties in Scotland used for short-term lets will have to get licences from the council.

Housing secretary Shona Robison said: “We have already introduced legislation allowing councils to establish short-term let control areas and manage numbers of short-term lets.

“This is the next significant step to delivering a licensing scheme that will ensure short-term lets are safe and the people providing them are suitable. We want short-term lets to continue making a positive impact on Scotland’s tourism industry and local economies while meeting the needs of local communities.

“Short-term lets can offer people a flexible travel option. However, we know that in certain areas, particularly tourist hotspots, high numbers of lets can cause problems for neighbours and make it harder for people to find homes to live in.

“The licensing scheme and control area legislation give councils the powers to take action where they need to.”

Housing secretary, you will note. Returning to that familiar theme that Airbnb hits housing supply and forces up prices. Not such an issue during the pandemic, when Airbnb guests were steering clear of the cities, but back with the recovery in travel.

Airbnb, which resigned from a stakeholder group during the Scottish process, said: “Airbnb has long called for clear rules that work for everyone in Scotland and while we are concerned about the impact measures presented today could have on local families, we are confident that we can address the issues raised by our community by working together with local authorities as the rules are implemented.”

It went on to comment in The Times that plans to introduce licensing would cost the economy £1m a day and lead to the disappearance of 17,000 jobs. It cited independent research showing that Airbnb currently delivered about £677m of gross value, supporting 33,500 jobs across Scotland.

So not so much wanting to work with the authorities if what they’re doing is licensing, then. 

Airbnb has always had a problem with licensing, which is growing around the world. Licences mean limits, which is a problem in a volume business. And not only limits which might be imposed in a jurisdiction, but limits on the part of part-time hosts who maybe can’t be bothered. Or maybe don’t want to be visible to the tax authorities. It can also lead to zoning, which cuts the potential portfolio again. 

This is part way to the level-playing which hotels have been clamouring for. But for all Airbnb is good at following trends and claiming it’s leading, don’t think it won’t have some plans up its sleeve. 

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