Wisniewski: miles from couch surfing | Opinion

When I first started using Airbnb, the platform wasn’t that far from its founding (2008) or its original intention, which was to connect couch surfers and budget-conscious travelers with unusual stays. while putting a few dollars in the pockets of extroverted owners.

In the early days of Airbnb, there were regular short-term rentals of couches, tents, air mattresses, and guesthouses, as well as yurts, cabins, and teepees tucked away on farms and ranches. The accommodations were often rustic and affordable. Part of the appeal was that the community review process helped weed out bad guests and bad hosts, which was essential as most Airbnb stays were shared spaces. The expectation was for the hosts to greet guests in their homes and towns, sharing insider tips on where to go and what to do. What the platform of hotel-style amenities lacked, it made up for in authenticity and unique experiences.

In my opinion, Airbnb was not meant to be a hotel replacement or competitor. Airbnb was marketed to a different kind of traveler. The tech company was apparently trying to create a community of backpackers and quasi-bohemian travelers less concerned with material luxury and more concerned with “knowing” their destinations. The real Paris. The real New York. The real Colorado.

Those days are long gone. Various analysts have found that the majority of Airbnb listings are now for entire homes, rather than shared properties or a spare bedroom in owner-occupied accommodation.

Chances are, if you rent an apartment or house on Airbnb, you will never even see the owner / host. Airbnb hasn’t ushered in a new sharing economy. He trivialized another basic human need: shelter.

The awesome little tech startup is now a $ 75 billion giant (according to a Forbes article) that digs into communities rather than building them. Make no mistake, the company is always talking about a community game, but they never really came up with a convincing explanation for the benefit a community sees in taking homes out of the long-term rental pool and at the same time. converting what could have been main residences into miniature hotels which often do not pay taxes at the same level as those paid by hotels. What improvement in the community results from the fact that neighboring houses welcome a new group of tourists every week? And what about the offseason for cities and mountain resorts? Does a city of (even more) empty houses seem like a real community to anyone?

The original idea was that cash-strapped owners could scoop up a few dollars here and there, but sharks smelled like money a long time ago. Increasingly, multi-unit hosts are driving the growth of short-term rentals. It’s a big deal. And if there’s one thing big companies love, it’s expansion. If a handful of rentals are regularly booked and generate big revenues, then why wouldn’t a profitable Airbnb host look for other opportunities to expand their real estate empires?

Potential buyers – individuals, companies and investment funds – no longer look at homes the same way. The game has changed. The recalculations determine the value of a home not by its livability, architecture or nearby schools – the recalculations determine the value of a home by its potential income as a short-term rental.

Make no mistake: it’s a game, and the stake is life or death for mountain towns. The West is quickly becoming a graveyard of mountain towns carved out, unmarked and turned into places for tourists to hike and snap Instagram photos.

Difficult conversations await us. Is a boon for some worth the destruction of a city for all?

Much more can be said about Airbnb and its ilk. But in the meantime, consider this: The sharks swimming in the city want nothing more than to convince the nearby minnows that they too can be sharks like them.

But sharks eat other sharks.

Jay Wisniewski can be contacted by email at [email protected]

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