When we owned our B&B in southern Oregon, the phenomenon of Airbnb was just burgeoning on to the hospitality scene, but we could see the writing on the wall.
Airbnb: A Hotly Debated Issue
I’m not sure there’s another topic in the travel/hospitality industry that is more hotly debated than Airbnb. As innkeepers we were understandably concerned about the competition – and really, it wasn’t exactly an even playing field.
As licensed innkeepers we underwent rigorous yearly inspections by the health and fire departments and we had to be insured. And, of course, as a business we were required to collect and pay taxes, and we had to pay income tax on the business income. We also were required to have one designated parking space for each guest room. None of these mandates were required of Airbnb hosts.
Small City Changes
Residents in our small City of Ashland, OR, were beginning to rent rooms in their homes, and many rented out their entire home as so many of the homes in Ashland had absentee owners. Homeowners saw it as a way to generate income and saw no reason why they could not do so, because after all it was their home. At the time the city had no regulations on homeowners and as a result many of them were renting rooms illegally, seemingly without concern for the consequences, i.e. liability insurance, disruption to the neighborhood, lack of parking, etc.
Fast forward five years and the City now has developed regulations (based on zoning) for hosts and there is a full-time code enforcer on staff. As we understand it, to legally operate an Airbnb space in Ashland, the property must be shared-space. One can rent a room in one’s home, or one can rent one’s entire home as a vacation home, as long as the owner lives on site.
Sadly, several of the B&B’s in Ashland have since sold, often in part because of stringent mandates for operation and the competition of the increased number of vacation rentals. It all circles back to the uneven playing field.
Airbnb: Yay or Nay?
I am not someone who can just lie down and sleep anywhere or anytime. I am – somewhat unfortunately – very particular about our accommodations while traveling. Because of this I tend to lean toward hotel stays for the comfort, amenities and cleanliness. With Airbnb one never truly knows what one will get; the difference between what is photographed and what is reality can be startling. And, one has to pay in advance at the time of booking, which is a practice we don’t relish.
TIP: When you book with Airbnb or any other site that requires payment in advance, triple check the cancellation policy. We never book a stay unless there is a flexible cancellation policy.
- “The disadvantages as a user? 1. You don’t always know exactly what you’ll get until you get there (examine the reviews and read between the lines! It’s a bit of science). A bad apartment can be a nightmare. 2. It requires more planning, especially setting up the initial check in, 3. You have to pay for your apartment up front, Airbnb acts like a bank (a pet peeve of mine).” Frank & Lissette of The Travels of BBQ Boy & Spanky
Over the past three years we’ve booked five stays and all but one were successful. Our not-so-successful stay took place in Lyon, France. Kudos to Airbnb though for stepping up and refunding our stay.
How Many Sides Are There?
For travelers, Airbnb can be super affordable, to the point where it makes travel possible for so many. This can be especially true for long-term travelers who stay for a month or more in one place. Renting an apartment is so much more practical, and affordable, than booking a hotel for a month. And, for many travelers who prefer to prepare their own meals, for personal preference, health or dietary issues, having a kitchen is key.
- “As full-time travellers we couldn’t live without Airbnb. The advantages: you can rent an apartment, with a full-kitchen, balcony, 2 bedrooms…any sort of apartment you want, almost anywhere you want. It’s having a home wherever you go. And if you stay a week, or even better a month (as we do), you’ll save up to 50-60% off the nightly rate. Airbnb has made our kind of travel easy, affordable, and easy to plan and book.” Frank & Lissette of The Travels of BBQ & Spanky
- “…You get to stay with a local who can offer advice about the area and you get perks such as access to a kitchen, washing machine and even cute pets. Then there’s the price. Travelling as a couple, we find that in expensive parts of the world such as Europe, Australia, New Zealand and the USA, you get far more for your money using Airbnb than booking hotels or even hostels.” Amy & Andrew of Our Big Fat Travel Adventure
But, there’s another side to the issue. While traveling in Portugal in 2017 we spent a day in the City of Coimbra and it was the first time we actually came face to face with the negative impact of Airbnb on the local population. Landlords can earn far more money renting their apartments for short stays rather than by renting long-term with a lease. It’s forcing locals out of their neighborhoods. And, in Coimbra – a university town – it’s making it difficult for students to find affordable housing.
But, on the other side (how many sides are there?) tourism supports the economy of the city.
A Crack Down
More and more cities are cracking down on the number of licensed Airbnb hosts, and/or banning all accommodations in certain areas of the city. Madrid is banning stays in the city’s historic center. New York City has banned any stays for less than 30 days. In Reykjavik, Iceland apartment owners cannot rent out their property for more than 90 days per year.
- “On a macro level, Airbnb is not a good thing. We’ve seen too many popular places become tourist ghettos – where blocks of apartments in the city center have been converted to Airbnb apartments. They’ve resulted in higher prices, locals having to move out, and a gutting of the authenticity of many city centers. I fully understand why some cities have put bans or restrictions on Airbnb.” Frank & Lissette of The Travels of BBQ Boy & Spanky
Jacking Up The Prices
In June of 2017 we left the United States bound for Europe. Our first stop was to be Lagos, Portugal but we could not find accommodations in the city that even began to be reasonable. Even shared spaces in hostels – which, let’s face it we’re way beyond the hostel phase – were outrageously expensive. Fortunately, for us, our Lagos based expat friends extended an invitation to stay with them. Lagos is a beach town and the population swells for the summer so owners can jack up the prices of what would normally be reasonable rental rates.
- “When we first started looking at the Algarve as a possible base in May of 2015, we went through AirBnB to rent an apartment for June and July so we could check out the area. With only 2 weeks to go before we wanted to arrive, we had few affordable choices for that time period and NONE in Lagos. We ended up with a 2 BR, 1 BA apt in Ferreiras, a small village near Albufeira, and paid about €1000 for June. There were 2 weeks available in July and the rent was raised to €750 per WEEK. In fact, we cut our time short in PT and headed back to the US to start the application because we couldn’t find anything cheaper in July!” Anita & Dick – No Particular Place to Go
Even Rick Steves Weighed In
I have to say Rick Steves is my go to source for any and all travel information. I’m also a big BIG fan of Samantha Brown but Rick has Europe down cold, so I always turn to him for all Europe related research. As a matter of fact, the other day I was watching his tour of Dresden, Germany and I happened to notice on his site a clip about this whole hotly debated topic.
What’s the Answer?
- “Tourism, at the end of the day, doesn’t regulate itself. It’s up to individual governments to, for instance, regulate how much tourist accommodation they allow in their cities. All we can do as travellers, bar staying at home, is try to travel as responsibly as possible. Will I stop using Airbnb? Probably not, but I do hope the Airbnb restrictions relieve some of these housing and mass tourism problems.” Amy & Andrew of Our Big Fat Travel Adventure