Tourism boards often find themselves in a complicated position when it comes to Airbnb and they’ve been less vocal about the sharing economy than the hotel industry.
Endorsing a platform like Airbnb would in many cases draw the ire of hotel partners; hotels pay taxes to municipalities while Airbnb still operates unregulated in many destinations.
But remaining silent about Airbnb sometimes finds destination marketers missing out on working with sharing economy platforms that many locals support.
Airbnb has signed memorandums of understanding with tourism boards such as Visit Denmark for data-sharing partnerships, which are sometimes tied to regulatory approval for the company in a city or locale. Airbnb has also agreed to limit the number of listings available in some of the cities that have entered into such partnerships.
The quandary for tourism boards is that many locals indeed oppose these platforms and feel they’re tearing at the fabric of their neighborhoods. Locals in places like Barcelona protested the sharing economy in 2017.
Some tourism boards have navigated the issues better than others. As 2017 wraps up, Skift reflected on conversations and interviews we had with tourism boards about the sharing economy during the past year, and what they had to say about how these platforms are impacting their destinations.
Residents’ Reactions in Bruges
Vist Bruges surveyed its local population in late 2016 for their thoughts on Airbnb’s impact on tourism in Bruges. About 60 and 70 percent of respondents from the inner and outer city, respectively, said they were neutral when asked if tourists who stay in an Airbnb rentals become more of a nuisance than other tourists.
Bruges only has about 400 Airbnb rentals, said Vincent Nijs, senior researcher and project manager at Visit Flanders. “The neutral category is so big because people don’t really know enough about Airbnb yet,” he said. “I’ve been talking to policymakers in Barcelona where there are more than 16,000 rentals on Airbnb and 7,000 of those don’t have a permit and aren’t legal.”
In Vienna, sharing economy platforms such as Airbnb haven’t triggered a backlash from residents — yet, said Michael Gigl, region manager for Vienna Tourist Board’s North America and Australia offices.
“There is a growing sensitivity on the sharing economy but it hasn’t reached a level where the city doesn’t know what to do with it,” said Gigl.
Airbnb’s Impact on Housing
Skift’s launched its first Skift Lens documentary, “Barcelona and the Trials of 21st Century Tourism,” in August and one of the focus areas of the video was alternative accommodations’ effect on the city’s tourism growth and housing development.
Short-term rental platforms have been criticized for causing rent increases in popular tourist areas and limiting housing for permanent residents. “We calculated that there were approximately 500,000 tourist apartments throughout Cataluña that were not regulated,” said Marian Muro, former director general of Cataluña Tourism, in the documentary. “We didn’t know their characteristics, if they had the right requirements for tourists so we created a regulation and called homes with a touristic use HUT. There were tourist apartments and we established minimum requirements.”
“It was a very controversial regulation because the other accommodation sectors did not perceive it well, but it allowed us to regularize 250,000 places in Cataluña,” he said. “It was something that had not happened anywhere else. We created a regulation and were then very strict in its application.”
Getting Airbnb Data
Miguel Sanz, director of tourism for Tourism Madrid, said the city would like sharing economy platforms like Airbnb to share more data to help tourism officials manage visitor growth.
“Cities themselves are not going to do it alone,” said Sanz earlier this month at a World Travel & Tourism Council forum in Madrid. “These sharing economy platforms are working for their own interests, which is what they’re supposed to do. But as we’ve experienced, these platforms could improve.”
Madrid is in the middle of a regulatory battle with Airbnb,, and the city’s relationship with the platform has been rocky. “We need clearer directives on the housing and lodging situation,” said Sanz. “Current regulation makes many Airbnb properties illegal in Madrid and Airbnb and other platforms are part of the growth in tourism.”
Airbnb rates often skyrocket during high-demand periods such as holidays and popular events, including this summer’s total solar eclipse in the U.S.
Visit Hopkinsville, the tourism board for Hopkinsville, Kentucky and site of the point of totality during the eclipse, listed short-term rental accommodations on its websites as a resource for visitors to help them find a reasonably priced accommodations.
“We let people pay a fee to get on our website with their listing and the rates weren’t outrageous like they were on other sites,” said Cheryl Cook, executive director of Visit Hopkinsville. “We were planning to do this anyway — and didn’t do it specifically because of sites like Airbnb — but we didn’t want visitors to get ripped off.” [
The average rate for an Airbnb rental in Hopkinsville for the weekend of August 19-21 was $261 per night, while the average hotel rate was $425.
Said Cook: “Some listings on our site were in line with hotels, some were reasonable, others were pricey.”
Mapping Approved Accommodations
Venice has long had a problem with overtourism and this year the city’s government and tourism officials launched a campaign with the United Nations World Tourism Organization to teach visitors how to properly behave.
One of the features of the campaign is a map of authorized accommodations that includes mostly hotels, although it’s not well-designed or user-friendly. While not directly mentioning Airbnb, the campaign is perhaps one indicator of how the city views short-term rentals.
Other tourism boards also include authorized accommodations on their websites that include both hotels and alternative accomodations.
On Attracting New Kinds of Travelers
Los Cabos, Mexico conducted research this year that found 15 percent of visitors to the destination stay in an alternative accommodation like Airbnb, and 85 percent stay in traditional hotels.
These percentages have remained steady for the past few years and hasn’t reduced hotel occupancy, said Rodrigo Esponda, managing director of Los Cabos Tourism Board. “Airbnb and other similar platforms have helped the destination by augmenting the destinations offer and accommodations,” he said. “Airbnb usually attracts millennials and tourists that don’t typically stay in hotels which in return, increases the number of travelers the destination is welcoming every year.”
Using Airbnb as a Marketing Platform
In May, Visit Sweden launched a marketing campaign on Airbnb to promote the entire country. Through the campaign, Airbnb was seeking to refine its abilities as a destination marketer.
Jenny Kaiser, president of Visit Sweden’s U.S. office, told Skift that the organization’s work with Airbnb is a branding campaign, not a booking campaign. Visit Sweden is more interested in getting travelers to perceive the country as a place of rich, natural landscapes than increasing the number of Airbnb bookings.
“Airbnb is the context where we can reach our target group and this is something that’s really connected with what Airbnb is doing,” said Kaiser. “Our joint initiative is really about spreading our message about Sweden. Visit Sweden has very high demands on delivering growth and we need to find new and effective ways to be able to reach our target groups.”
Kaiser said Visit Sweden’s Airbnb partnership was only the starting point. “We’ll do another initiative on another platform but the Airbnb partnership will continue,” she said. “Our future partnerships will depend on which is the best fit for our key markets like the UK, Germany or China.”