The Airbnb effect has helped transform many neighborhoods around the world, and some before they were fully ready for mass tourism. The company is acknowledging that it knows it has an impact. But let's see if major cities where the real problems exist will get the same treatment as rural villages in Africa.
Airbnb, which has helped spur tourism growth in many regions of the world, said Tuesday it was creating an office of healthy tourism to tackle overcrowding by visitors that has increasingly put strains on local economies.
Healthy tourism, or Airbnb’s term for proper tourism growth management, was coined after 31 million travelers stayed in an Airbnb in the United States in 2017, according to data released by Airbnb this week. In addition, some 38 million U.S. travelers stayed in an Airbnb in another country last year.
It’s unclear how much effort the office will devote to overtourism in destinations like New York, Paris, and Barcelona, which have recently seen a backlash from residents because of companies like Airbnb.
The office will initially focus on managing tourism in rural areas to convince travelers to visit areas that need more tourism spending, a statement from Airbnb said. While it’s important to find areas that need more tourism and manage it effectively, many destinations are struggling with more pressing concerns and are at capacity.
Airbnb is also launching a tourism advisory board along with the new office. Board members include David Scowsill, former president and CEO of the World Travel & Tourism Council and CEO of EON Reality Inc.; Taleb Rifai, former Secretary General of the United Nations World Tourism Organization; Rosette Rugamba, managing director of Songa Africa and Amakoro Lodge and former Director General of Rwanda Tourism; and Bob Carr, former Foreign Affairs Minister for Australia and former Premier of New South Wales.
The board will help shape the company’s long-term vision and activities to help reduce Airbnb’s role in overtourism. “Travel is becoming more accessible as the world gets richer. One billion more people will be in the global middle class by 2030, and these new entrants will be looking to travel to enhance their horizons, said Scowsill in a statement.
“The concentration of tourism in key locations is creating a threat to their future, by causing congestion, overcrowding, and a deteriorating quality of life for residents,” said Scowsill.
The office is partnering with the University of Cape Town Graduate School of Business to host the Africa Travel Summit in September ,2018. The summit will discuss how technology can help manage tourism growth in various communities in Africa.
Airbnb said many guests book a stay on the platform because they already perceive it as an environmentally-friendly company. Some 66 percent of guests said the environmental benefits of homesharing were an important factor when booking, according to Airbnb.
Airbnb’s decision to launch an office and board aimed at tourism growth is a welcomed move, said Mateu Hernandez, CEO of Barcelona Global. “Airbnb has the technology and the solutions and what they may provide could be interesting,” he said. “My feeling is that overtourism solutions may not change the reality and maybe Airbnb can be the disruptor to the traditional way of doing things.
“They need to do something about overtourism because the rate of tourism apartments and the impact of many people in Barcelona who are angry with tourism is because of companies like Airbnb. Until now, they were not really providing solutions and as a technology company they may have some good solutions.”
Many hotels also contribute to overtourism. Still, many companies haven’t addressed the issue or established a similar office to Airbnb’s.
It’s also interesting to note that alternative accommodations were a major factor in why Europe had a strong year of tourism recovery in 2017. That comes with a price as more neighborhoods become developed and designed for tourism and the cost of living rises.
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Photo credit: Tourists line the streets of Las Ramblas in Barcelona. Mark_M / Flickr