There was a time when Airbnb, the room-renting app, was a people-powered revelation. A way to make a bit of extra money, inviting travellers to experience authentic local culture by staying for a few nights in somebody’s spare bedroom.
Then the money flooded in, and things started to change. Instead of spare rooms, there were whole apartments. Instead of renting homes, the listings were dedicated to second properties. And instead of individual hosts, there were businesses flogging an entire catalogue of rentable wares. Airbnb became more of the same, wrapped up in a more attractive package.
The booming popularity of the app led academics, journalists and policy makers to study the impact of an ‘Airbnb effect’ on local communities — to see whether housing prices are driven up by an influx of travellers paying higher, short-term rents**. Although the company stresses its commitment to sustainable communities, anti-Airbnb movements have emerged the world over, urging local governments to intervene to protect citizens.
A Guardian story quoted one urban planner in Amsterdam, previously an Airbnb user, who said that neighbourhood business that create ties between residents “are replaced by businesses that only focus on tourists.”
“Bike rental companies replace local grocery shops,” he added. “And apartments that are continuously rented out to tourists are lost to people who want to actually live here.”
That urban planner was Sito Veracruz, one of the founder members of Fairbnb Cooperative — a new sort of short-term rental initiative that wants to completely rewrite the relationship between travelers and locals.
Formalised as a cooperative in 2018, Fairbnb is run by a mixture of citizens, researchers, and people from professional backgrounds. The project aims to offer a “community-centred alternative to current vacation rental platforms”, which “prioritises people over profit and offers the potential for authentic, sustainable and intimate travel experiences.”
The key selling point is that rents booked through Fairbnb will crowdfund community projects that benefit an area’s residents. A fee will be applied to each transaction, of which 50% will be donated to a community project of the booker’s choice.
“Travelers can help locals remain in their city, restore local monuments, develop groups, give to those in need, fund startups and create jobs,” a video explains.
The cooperative will operate a one host, one house policy, only allowing individuals or businesses with a single room or building to rent. All houses and projects must be checked and abide by national laws.
In a blog on the Fairbnb.coop website, the organisation explains that delays in funding and changes to national regulations about short term rentals — particularly in Italy, which will require every company renting space in the country to be publicly registered — had delayed the opening of the company. Nevertheless, it will soon be opening in Venice, Bologna, Genoa, Barcelona, Amsterdam and Valencia.
“We knew from the start that making a cooperative platform from scratch is not an easy task: to foster the development of an open, democratic, healthy and efficient living organism is required an enormous level of commitment, focus, resources and time but we met some roadblocks on our route to delivery,” the blog reads.
The coop will expand its team in the coming months as more people begin using the site. Fairbnb aims to connect with “thousands of people and organisations worldwide” to reach the goal of 120 destinations in the next 15 months.
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Sheikh Nawaf al-Saud al-Nasser al Sabah