Since launching in 2008, Airbnb has comfortably enjoyed what can only be described as world domination. What started as a way for a couple of friends to pocket some cash from renting out their living room has become the world’s biggest holiday rental company. In 2022, Airbnb had properties in 100,000 cities and 220 countries and regions. And along the way, the platform has spawned a generation of imitators and rivals.
But in the background, an ‘Airbnbacklash’ has been steadily brewing. The popularity of Airbnb and similar platforms in cities such as Barcelona, Amsterdam and Berlin has led to accusations of rent hikes, housing shortages and the ‘touristification’ of whole neighbourhoods. In the UK, an average of 29 homes are lost every day to the holiday rental market.
And communities worldwide have pushed back. In 2019, for example, ten cities co-signed a letter to the EU demanding stricter regulations on short-term holiday rentals.
Many local governments have brought in tougher rules. In 2017, it was ruled that short-term rentals in London must abide by a 90-night yearly limit, while Spain’s Palma de Mallorca has effectively banned Airbnb-style rentals. Over in southern California, hosts in Santa Monica are restricted from renting out entire dwellings for less than 30 days, and must be living on-site if they want to rent out a room for a shorter period. And New York City has announced tougher rules that could see 10,000 Airbnb rentals erased in 2023.
But complaints against unregulated holiday rentals aren’t only coming from local communities and governments. In 2022, Airbnb faced a fresh tidal wave of criticism from guests about hidden fees, curfews and chores lists, with many people on social media celebrating the virtues of a hotel stay over a homestay. Who wouldn’t want someone to make your bed, take out your trash and help you find a pharmacy at 3am?
Homestays strike back
For a moment, it seemed as though the tide was turning. But as 2023 dawns, it’s clear the demand for homestays and holiday rentals is going nowhere.
Airbnb came out of the pandemic not just unscathed but better off, reporting an 80 percent increase in bookings in the first quarter of 2022 compared to the same time period in 2019. And the wider market continues to expand, with whole-home rental platform Vrbo – which was created back in 1995, but has recently had a rebrand – emerging as one of Airbnb’s main competitors.
And Airbnb doesn’t seem to be complacent about criticism and competition. Following that backlash from guests, the site has scrapped hidden fees: a move which is set to have a ripple effect on the short-term rental sector this year, according to travel industry site Skift.
Workations and kitchens
Despite all the criticism, homestays continue to have some key advantages over hotels. They’ve always been popular for families and groups looking for multiple rooms. But now the remote-working revolution has led to an explosion in digital nomadism, longer stays and ‘workations’ – all of which are far more suited to the home-away-from-home vibe of a holiday rental, compared to hotels. (The numbers speak for themselves: people stay an average of two nights at hotels, while the average holiday rental stay is five-and-a-half days.)
Then there’s the one thing missing from most hotel rooms: a kitchen. Expedia predicts that in 2023, travellers will look to curb their spending on eating out by searching for places to stay which have access to cooking facilities.
This is nothing new: even back in 2016, according to Hotel Tech Report, having access to a kitchen was the number one reason people opted for a vacation rental over a hotel. But it’s even more relevant against a background of rising inflation that’s driving up food costs worldwide.
And we have to co-sign. Restaurants are great: an essential part of discovering a new destination. But there’s nothing quite like the wondrous experience of grocery shopping in an overseas supermarket, and enjoying the window they give you into local culture.
Homestays: the next generation
The good news, if you’re looking for an alternative to Airbnb’s ‘everything, everywhere’ approach, is that a growing number of homestay options are cropping up that aim to offer a more specialised model. Fairbnb, for example, only lists properties owned by bona fide local residents and abides by a ‘one host, one home’ rule to avoid one person having a monopoly on properties. Then there are the likes of Biostays and Ecobnb, which only promote eco-conscious homestays. Meanwhile, platforms like Plum Guide promise to vet every single one of their listings, aiming to prevent guests from encountering nasty surprises and safety issues.
And don’t overlook the option to stay in an old-school B&B. Somewhere between a hotel and a homestay, these traditional establishments offer the best of both worlds, combining the authentic lodging-with-locals experience Airbnb initially set out to offer with the friendly service of a hotel. (Many even have kitchens!) They also typically exist in tourist zones, helping to prevent the risk of locals being priced out of housing or seeing their neighbourhoods reshaped by tourism.
Some people will always prefer the comfortable embrace of a hotel. But in an age of increased costs, there’s something seductive about the price-cutting advantages and home comforts of the holiday rental. And with increasing options for community-conscious travellers, we’re calling it: Airbnbacklash or no, in 2023 holiday rentals will be bigger than ever.
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