On May 11, Airbnb became one of 26 new affiliate members of the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), an agency of the United Nations that promotes responsibility, sustainability, and universal accessibility in tourism.
To date, the UNWTO has 157 member states and more than 480 affiliate members, Airbnb included. Affiliate members include private companies, universities, tourism association, and local tourism authorities from around the world. U.S. members include the American Hotel & Lodging Educational Institute, Destination Marketing International, Green Globe, and TripAdvisor, to name a few.
For Airbnb, the membership is symbolic of the platform’s importance as “a sustainable form of tourism” and it also enhances its global reputation as a major player in the $1.4 billion travel and tourism sector, which continues to grow. According to UNWTO figures and estimates, nearly 1.2 billion international tourist arrivals were recorded in 2015, a 4% increase over 2014, and that growth rate will continue to rise in 2016. The increase in international arrivals in early 2016 is already at 5%.
It also comes at a time when the San Francisco-based company, worth an estimated $25.5 billion, is trying to become legalized and/or fend off restrictive regulations in cities around the world, the UNWTO’s organizational seal of approval further legitimizes Airbnb’s claims of being a true community marketplace that engenders real cultural connections.
“From Cuba to Cape Town, Airbnb is helping to grow and diversify tourism and democratize its benefits for more families, communities and local businesses,” Chris Lehane, Airbnb’s head of global policy and public affairs, said in a statement.
“It’s a sustainable form of tourism that provides transformative travel by allowing people to live like a local,” he added, echoing the company’s newest campaign: “Airbnb guests don’t just go there; they live there by staying in the homes of actual people; visiting the real neighborhoods; and experiencing life the way a local does. We are excited to work with UNWTO and global leaders to harness the positive impacts of travel to activate new communities and bring the world a little closer together.”
Later this month, as part of its membership, Airbnb will participate in a UNWTO Seminar on “New Business Models” taking place during the organization’s 60th Meeting of the UNWTO Commission for Europe in Lithuania. Topics of discussion, according to Airbnb, will include seniors, its fastest-growing demographic of hosts in the U.S.; activating communities in cities such as London and Barcelona; and helping Airbnb hosts in Laos and Kenya earn significant sums in supplementary income.