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Airbnb: increasingly responsible and qualitative?

Due to the many controversies surrounding the Californian platform, it is increasingly focusing on measures to promote social inclusion and territorial development. At the same time, it continues to expand by reaching a more qualitative market: the luxury segment.

Increasingly transparent. Increasingly inclusive. Increasingly responsible. Airbnb tries its best to justify the existence of its platform, by making it a conscientious tourism actor. It communicates about much broader subjects than this, such as support from corporations belonging to Afro-Americans during a festival held in New Orleans at the beginning of July.

Social and security responsibility 

To start, Airbnb has worked to encourage the transparency of the equipment offered by accommodations on its platform, for both families and persons with reduced mobility.

For families, Airbnb offers more options in the description of the accommodations to allow them to plan their stay. "And traveling with family comes with extra needs — especially if there is a baby on board. From playrooms with cribs, to playgrounds and BBQs, amenities such as these will help both children and parents have seamless summer stays," reads one communication. Concretely this means there is a finer and more detailed description of equipment available at each property.

It offers several examples of stays adapted to families, among which is this case of a house in Orlando (Florida, United States):

Come one, come all! If you are planning a large family reunion, this spot in Florida conveniently sleeps 20. Families will love the themed bedrooms with bunk beds, expansive dining room table, and playroom equipped with toys, a highchair, and a stroller.

The listing is completed with no fewer than 47 pieces of equipment available in each lodging, including several that specifically address families (books and toys for children, high chair, folding cot, swimming pool, etc.).

As far as accessibility is concerned, the platform has also strengthened its listings in this regard (wide doors, hallways, stair-free…). First, it created accessibility filters that "allow Airbnb guests to search for listings with specific features, including step-free entry to rooms, entryways that are wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair, and more". Then, in order to ensure clarity, hosts had to add visuals showing the set-up of their accommodations.

Nonetheless, there are no obligations regarding accessibility, which remains a at the discretion of the host. Also, filling out any information in this regard is optional for listings on the site. Finally, the platform specifies in it regulations that that this depends on the goodwill of the renter to inform guests about this:

We ask hosts and travelers to communicate with one another to understand if the accommodations are appropriate or not. We expect our hosts to be available to discuss the accessibility of their lodgings with travelers and that they sometimes make small modifications in order to help travelers move about comfortably and safely in their lodgings.

In other words, it is more of an incentive than a requirement. While it provides more clarity on this subject, in the absence of clear and mandatory regulations, accessibility information may remain very incomplete in proportion to the total number of accommodations available on the platform.

Airbnb is also taking measures to ensure the safety of homes. It thus initiated a partnership with the Red Cross in December 2018, which subsequently gave rise to a series of training courses on fire risk prevention. These workshops were the subject of an event entitled The Sound of Alarm. Last April and May, 4,300 smoke detectors were reportedly installed by Airbnb hosts and the association's volunteers in 1,800 homes across ten American cities (Washington DC, San Diego, Atlanta, Seattle, Miami, Chicago...). In return, the platform pledged a $1 million donation to the Red Cross for its contribution..

Gail McGovern, president and CEO of the American Red Cross, declaired:

The remarkable partnership with Airbnb will make a lifesaving difference to keep people safe from home fires and raise awareness about the dangers of carbon monoxide. We’re very grateful for Airbnb’s support of our Home Fire Campaign to prevent tragedies and to help families recover from devastating events in communities across the country.

Alongside this, Airbnb also distributes free smoke and CO2 detectors to hosts who do not have them. At the end of last year, some 30,000 detectors have already been distributed.

These actions follow serious accidents in rentals through the platform, such as the tragic event in Santiago de Chile. Six Brazilian tourists residing in the Chilean capital were reportedly asphyxiated further to a problem with equipment in their rented accommodations, a problem that could only be detected with a carbon monoxide detection system.

Local impact and economic partnerships 

Airbnb claims to have had an impact of USD 100 billion in 30 countries around the world in 2018. The leading market would be its home territory, the United States, at USD 33.8 billion, i.e. one-third of the total contribution. France is just behind, apparently benefiting from USD 10.8 billion in economic spin-offs. The primary regions that benefited are Ile-de-France, with €2.3 billion, PACA (Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur) with €1.7 billion, and Occitanie with €906 million.

The impact on the local economy has been assessed through an internal survey based on a sample of 228,000 responses from more than 500 million users on the platform. According to the survey, 42% of the platform's users spent money in the neighborhood where they stayed, which means that they spent it in nearby businesses. These same people would appear to spend 2.1 times more than regular tourists; moreover, 84% would recommend the food service establishments they used (restaurants and cafés). In addition, in 50% of the cases, money saved by using this solution for accommodations would be spent on site (suggesting at neighborhood merchants). Finally, Airbnb enables travelers to extend their stays by lowering the cost of accommodation. Travelers would appear to extend their trip by an average of 4.3 days, making their stays 2.1 times longer than normal tourist stays.

In any case, Airbnb is clear on one point: it wants to be recognized for its positive action in favour of the development of territories and their local economic fabrics. To take its local impact even further, Airbnb has created several partnerships with organizations representing professionals in these territories. For this purpose, the Airbnb Experiences platform supports these exchanges through the diversity of business opportunities it offers.

For example, the Californian company has partnered with the Tourism Development Corporation of The Bahamas to train Bahamian professionals in its new platform (Airbnb Experiences). It also invited the local inhabitants to enrich the platform with activities to help visitors discover their region. Janet Johnson, CEO of the Tourism Development Corporation of The Bahamas, described Experiences as "a game changer for those Bahamians who offer unique experiences to gain more exposure to visitors who are booking through Airbnb".

Carlos Munoz, Airbnb's campaign manager for public policy and communications in the Caribbean and Central America, explains the double purpose of this:

Airbnb, through its Office of Healthy Tourism, is excited to work with the Tourism Development Corporation of The Bahamas to highlight locals, sustainable tourism, and ensure that Bahamians - especially those in the Family Islands - are at the helm of the benefits of a robust tourism industry that is local, authentic, diverse, inclusive and sustainable.

It also partnered with the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce to support businesses and members of the Chamber of Commerce to use the new platform. According to Rodney Fong, president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce, this offers a real development opportunity for local tourism actors and suggests that the Chamber of Commerce is "thrilled to partner with Airbnb to highlight the city’s diverse and innovative businesses and create experiences that are uniquely San Francisco."

Aoife McArdle, Director of Business and Social Impact Trips at Airbnb, also reassures the local business community regarding the potential for economic development offered by this partnership:

Whether it’s hosting a class or partnering with a host on a tour showcasing local stores and restaurants, Airbnb Experiences are an innovative way for local entrepreneurs to grow their small business.

The press release explains that the Airbnb Experiences offer is intended as both a support for the development of new products and a complement to the resources of existing companies, by offering an additional distribution channel on the Internet.

Airbnb launches into the luxury segment

Since the end of June, the platform offers a new range of products that are innovative in their content and range: Airbnb Luxe. More than just an offer of accommodations, these are high-end and tailor-made stays geared towards a high-value clientele.

This product is inspired by a company acquired by Airbnb in 2017, Luxury Retreats. It specialises in organizing luxury stays and has more than 4,000 villas worldwide, offering concierge service available 24/7. Airbnb Luxe takes up this selective and qualitative concept. Only 2,000 properties were selected for the prestigious list. The choice was made on the basis of a selection process using 300 criteria to evaluate the quality of the housing (design and equipment).

From the traveler's perspective, the "tailored" feel of the stay is achieved through the choice of accommodations through a "trip designer" who is "dedicated and highly trained" and "who will ensure the stay is tailored to the traveler’s unique needs every step of the way". In addition to accommodations, this professional can also organize "bespoke experiences and activities", from from childcare, to private chefs to in-house massage therapists.

Brian Chesky, Airbnb's co-founder, CEO and Head of Community, explains the origin of this concept:

Today’s luxury traveler is craving more than just high-end accommodations; they seek transformation and experiences that leave them feeling more connected to each other and to their destination. With Airbnb Luxe we are applying the same approach we’ve used since we launched Airbnb more than 11 years ago — creating local, authentic and magical travel moments now in amazing places to stay — to reimagine the way people think and experience luxury travel..

The development of this new product also follows an increase in bookings in the high-end segment. Indeed, stays in accommodations costing more than USD 1,000 per night increased by 60% on the platform in 2018, confirming the existence of real development potential for this niche in the years to come.

For some French professionals, this new offer would be an additional infringement of competition rules. Indeed, by proposing the organisation of a stay, the platform is similar to the model of "tour and holiday operators" provided by Atout France (detailed in article L. 211-2 of the new Tourism Code). However, it does not take this title and is not on the national organization's list of such entities.

But for some specialists, it is only a matter of time, as Emmanuelle Llop, an attorney before the court for Equinoxe Avocats, explains that "this situation is not unlike that of Evaneos a few years ago, which was finally registered". In other words, the platform still has many measures to take to comply with highly standardized markets, such as that of France.

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