Airbnb has released some figures which might please its investors but, on the face of it, do little to appease those who think that the platform is responsible for what is now known as overtourism,
The figures have been released a week or so after Airbnb’s busiest ever day – on August 5 more than 2.5 million people stayed in a property booked on the platform. It added that “on any given night, two million people are staying in other people’s homes around the world on Airbnb”.
There are now four million listings on its platform in 191 different countries, giving it more properties than the top five hotel chains have rooms. Nearly half are instantly bookable. No hotels chain has as many rooms as this, it claims.
The US has the most listings with 660,00 followed by the established European tourist hotspots – France (485,000) Italy (340,000) Spain (245,000) and the UK (175,000).
In isolation, these country-level statistics appear unthreatening. According the UNWTO, in 2015 France welcomed 85 million international visitors, while the European Commission says that there were 180 million domestic trips in the same year. In this context, having an additional half a million properties available when there are at least 250 million trips taking place does not seem too extreme.
The specifics of its presence in cities where overtourism has become a concern, to some, are not specified. Amsterdam, Barcelona and Venice are the most exposed to this phenomenon, according to mainstream media coverage, and while Airbnb is present here, there are other factors in play – huge cruise ships dumping thousands of people in Venice at the same time for an afternoon for example.
Airbnb can be a force for good, Airbnb says. It refers to statistics which say that it now has more than 200,000 “senior hosts” of whom 120,000 are women. There is no country-by-country breakdown for this but it has played the inclusivity card in India by working with a trades union which represents two million self-employed women, while in China it is training up senior citizens to become hosts.
Finally, Airbnb reveals that since its launch in 2008 more than 200 million guest stays have been transacted on its platform. According to the UNWTO, there has been more than one billion international travellers every year since 2012. If you factor in domestic trips during that time, which the UNWTO does not track, then Airbnb’s 200 million guests in nine years does not seem significant on a global scale.
This is not to deny the existence of or downplay the impact of “overtourism” on specific locations, but to point the ugly finger of blame at Airbnb glosses over many of the other factors in play. And while some Venetians complain about Airbnb, others are doing quite nicely thank you using the platform to rent out their apartment.
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