A few years ago, the phrase "getting an Airbnb" meant one thing: stay in the apartment, house or a room with a stranger, likely at a bargain price compared to nearby hotels.
But in 2019, things are not that simple. Eleven years after the company was founded in 2008 – and among endless speculations when it launches its IPO – the meaning of that sentence has multiplied.
Sure, the original offer still stands. But "getting an Airbnb" (or "Airbnb", which is now a verb) can also mean staying in a "Plus" listing, defined as "a selection of homes verified for quality and design." Or, the listing may be offered by a supervised Superhost, who may or may not have immediate book enabled, a feature that eliminates the cumbersome but sometimes charming step of cropping your potential host before making an order.
If you can order all these things and more on Airbnb, it's worth asking: What's really Airbnb these days?
In gauzy parlance of corporate tech, there is an "end-to-end" travel platform that "combines where you live, what you do and how to get there, all in one place." But in being there, it has moved farther and farther away from what was when the founders started it – literally, with air mattresses.
That's fine, of course. It was never a guarantee that Airbnb would remain what it once was – a smart, well-executed and game-changing idea in the halcyon days of the early sharing economy. Venture capitalism-boosted growth requires good ideas to come to an uncertain size, requiring shifts in approach and mission. But in the transformation of Airbnb, it has become less and less clear what the company itself wants to be.
Mother and Pop
Good evidence of how far Airbnb has come is the emergence of the term "mom and pop" Airbnb host. Although not formally used by Airbnb, the phrase has become a shorthand for an ordinary person who rents out their own home or apartment occasionally, perhaps when they are out of town or when they are willing to sleep on their own sofa to earn money .
That the modern encyclopedia attaches a nostalgic shine to hosts using the platform it was originally intended to be used to tell. These days, Airbnb is regularly accused of being "professional" or riddled with commercially motivated operators operating informal hotels (some of them in accordance with city rules, something very much not). These hosts rarely talk to guests, criticisms go, and are far from giving the idea of a "live like a local" experience that popularized themselves. The professionalization of Airbnb is also involved in making homes inaccessible to the locals by encouraging landlords to rent homes for an endless parade of short-term guests at higher prices than they might require long-term renters.
That the modern encyclopedia attaches a nostalgic sheen to hosts who use the platform it was originally intended to be used to tell.
So has Airbnb lost its soul? One way to decide it would be to ask a simple question: What percentage of total listings on Airbnb are hosts with a single listing? What percentage of hosts have more than five? But when Quartz asked a spokesperson for this, we didn't get a clear answer. He just noted that the company sees "more professional hospitality entrepreneurs joining our community precisely because they want to access our global network of hosts and guests and deliver the kind of high-quality, unique experience guests have come to expect."
On a more localized basis, the company has revealed pieces of this data earlier where they earn a rhetorical point. For example, in February, Airbnb told me for another story that 73% of the hosts in Lisbon, Portugal have a single listing, while only 9% have more than four. But even these numbers can be difficult to draw solid conclusions from. For example, they do not explain how many entries the largest operators have, and what percentage of the total listings are from these 9% of the "professional" operators, they can have dozens each, for everything we know.
Avban's unwillingness to share these numbers, and general reluctance to release much data when asked, makes it difficult to assess the company more than a decade in its existence, as it is gradually preparing for a stock exchange listing. Most of the data analysis on this key issue of the deals comes from sources of pronounced interest: either those who can reasonably see the company as a competitor (hotels and their lobby groups) or companies interested in supporting home growth. If Airbnb makes the IPO a rumored value in tens of billions of dollars, this information can become more transparent: Investors will probably have solid answers to how much of the airbrow's income comes from people's vacant bedrooms.
If Airbnb makes the IPO a rumored value in tens of billions of dollars, investors will probably have solid answers to how much of the airbrow's revenue comes from people's extra bedrooms.
But there are some strong indicators that the site is becoming increasingly professional. AirDNA, a provider of market insight for the holiday rental industry, is such a source that is expressly pro-Airbnb and vacation rental. The company gets its data by "scratching" the Airbnb site almost every day and analyzing the calendar to find things like the number of entries. (It is worth noting that Airbnb says that while scratched data can serve a purpose, it may not be exactly accurate and can lead to "unreliable conclusions that do not catch the complexity and nuance of the Airbnb community.")
AirDNA Shared Quartz data showed that since January 2016, multi-listing hosts (including hotel offers and other traditional platform hospitality offers) in the United States have grown faster than single listing hosts. The spokesman noted that many of these professional or commercial operators with multiple listings are vacation rental companies, rather than individual-turned entrepreneurs.
A 2017 report by CBRE Hotels, a commercial real estate company, likewise resembled AirDNA's scraped data for Airbnb listings in 13 US markets. It found that 32% of all revenue from Airbnb in the US from October 2015 to September 2016 came from multiple units (defined as any host who "rents out two or more unique entire home units in the same month") and that revenue growth in this category increased by 89% year on year in the 13 studied markets.
Scott Shatford, founder and CEO of AirDNA, claims that increased professionalization is not necessarily a bad thing – and in many ways it is driven by consumer demand for "a more consistent, hotel-like experience" that Airbnb has matured.
He notes that the more professional Airbnb host is, the more likely they are to comply with the regulations that prune in cities around the world – even though he said evidence to support this claim is anecdotal. He even went so far as to suggest that these rules intended to limit the impact of the air on neighborhoods, perhaps professionalizing, by making it too heavy for "mom and pop" hosts to rent out their homes.
"If you are going to get a house to go to the Town Hall, wait three hours to get two weeks' permission to rent their place while in Europe, they just won't do it."  "If you" need to do a homeowner go to the town hall, wait on line for three hours to get permission to rent their place for two weeks while in Europe, they just won't do it, right? "Shatford said He theorized that this dynamic is "driving down the little moms and the pops" the Airbnb hosts finding the process too difficult.
Airbnb itself did not respond to a question of whether increased regulation in cities around the world has been host-driven professionalization
So if Airbnb is relentlessly professional, loses its scrappy vibe and becomes more in line with municipal laws, why does the company not only take its public stock as a company with more listings than the six best hotel groups put together?  Partly because it can't, since the day, the unique offer of homesharing by host has been based on a practice that is at best questionable according to zoning, health and safety zoning plans in many cities (not to mention some buildings), and in some cases completely illegal. Setting up a legal hotel or bed and breakfast business is a costly and tough process; The success of the airline, at least in part, is to give hosts a convenient way to ignore much of it.
Antipathy to Airbnb and the wider time of home sharing and "living as a local" journey that ushered has led to a host of reactive rules in cities around the world that interfere with the company's basic practices. These include limiting the total nights per year that a property can be rented out, prohibiting "entire home" airbags by requiring a host to be present for stays of less than 30 days, and requiring host registration with the city or state.
The company is engaged in what a recent Wired piece called "a city-city, block-by-block guerrilla war" when it comes to tax, zoning and security laws.
In fact, in the midst of this communal pushback, the company is engaged in what a source in a recent Wired piece (paywall) called "a city-by-block-block-guerrilla war" in terms of tax, regulatory, zoning and security laws. (The current taxes are those that the Airbnb hosts will collect from guests and then transfer to local coupons, and likewise, hotels are often needed to collect sums on top of the room rate. Much of the company's disagreement with cities is how proactive Airbnb – which looks like a platform, not an accommodation provider – should help ensure that the hosts collect and pay the taxes.)
While Airbnb often highlights the collaboration with city officials on many of these issues, it also has actively fought them (with varying success) with lawsuits in cities such as Boston, Miami, New York and Palm Beach. Airbnb said in an email to Quartz that it has "committed to treating each city personally" and in that quest has forged partnerships with more than 500 locations globally and collected and transferred more than $ 1 billion in taxes to governments.
"When we do this work, we have provided sensible rules that ordinary people can follow without hiring a team of lawyers and accountants," Airbnb wrote. "There is no doubt that renting a room or renting out your home is fundamentally different than running a hotel, and we think rules and regulations should reflect that."
"When we do this work, we have told reasonable rules that people can follow regularly without hiring a team of lawyers and accountants."
Josh Bivens, Research Director of the Economic Policy Institute – and author of a recently published literature review claiming that the financial cost of Airbnb is likely to be greater than the benefits – said that tax treaties are still "voluntary, ad hoc" deals that often do not match which hotels are legally obliged to pay. "The amount of data they offer up to the IRS is more limited than that required by other commercial operators." For example, these deals often hide host names and identify details from the tax authorities – "a gross deviation from standard practice, says a former tax commissioner to Wired – making it difficult to confirm whether the right tax is being paid.
Voluntary tax treaty can paint a picture of compliance, even if Airbnb hosts ignore other laws. "I think they hope they get a tax treaty, which means they have a legitimate blessing to operate in the city, even though we may not to operate the way they are on the zoning front. "
It is common to see that for a company that is going to be public on a multibillion-dollar valuation, be in loggerheads with the law and city officials around the world is a problem. Perhaps to tackle this problem, Airbnb has made a number of moves lately to make its product more tasty.
These moves one includes the entire Experiences product, which in a way has diversified its offerings beyond controversial short-term listings to more enjoyable pottery and ground classes (and even wants Instagram to affect photography). Recently, the acquisition of the HotelTonight boutique hotel platform will allow Airbnb to add vetted properties to its growing hotel portfolio. It will ensure a larger proportion of listings that are regulated and taxed as hotels (because they are hotels).
Airbnb has also launched a friendly building program that would bring more hosts into compliance by providing tools for landlords, property managers, and homeowners who want to allow and set rules on Airbnb that rent in their buildings. In some cities where officials have demanded it, Airbnb, like San Francisco, has also turned up the platform for listings that do not follow the rules – even though it has refused to do so, or just patchily elsewhere.
Even when Airbnb fights municipal rules and is involved in litigation with cities around the world, it still seems to maintain the warm and fuzzy ethos of its early sharing economy days. In an email to Quartz, a spokesman used the terms "magic stays", "communities not goods" and "a world where anyone can hear anywhere" to describe the company's mission.
"The core of Airbnb has always been – and will continue to be – our extraordinary hosts who invite guests into their homes," the spokesman wrote. "We've seen how hosting is an economic lifeblood for hosts around the world, and supporting our hosts will always be our focus. Some of these hosts may have multiple listings for various reasons: Some share the entire house while out of town and a room in the home when they are present, others can help deal with homes for their friends and neighbors. "
It is a moment of absurdity in the thought that a luxury apartment for business travelers, serviced by a management company, may still be "Magic" And the truth is before -IPO Airbnb is a bit of an existential tangle, Bivens said. To fully professionalize, to work no different than another hospitality giant like Marriott, would effectively wipe out many of the mother-and-pop the listings that built what it calls an "unparalleled mark." "On the one hand, they are interested in not claiming to be a large, large-scale operation of unlicensed hotels in places they are not allowed to be. in, says Bivens to me. "But on the other hand, if they are not on a large scale, what are investors who are raising money?"
There is a hint of absurdity in the idea that a luxury apartment for business travelers, serviced by a management company, may still be "magical".
The airline's woes fit into a broader context of turbulent democratization of the journey. Although Airbnb often draws attention to the significant financial contribution it and tourists bring to cities and tourism revenue around the world, the ongoing crisis of overtourism has shown that is a thing that too much of a good thing . While tourism revenue looks good on paper, these figures do not take into account the hidden costs that some local residents have used for that growth. It's cool if your neighbors make extra money from renting their flat or local restaurants thrive by attracting lookers — but not so cool that you have to hear trundling luggage, mistaken buzzers and drunken house parties every night of the week.
No one can deny that in just 11 years, Airbnb has changed their face on modern travels. It is also undeniable that the very concept of renting a local free space is inextricably linked to Airbnb, even though competitors like Booking.com and VRBO build similar homesharing operations. But in its meteoric transformation from a mattress boot to one of the world's largest travel agents, the Airbnb base is in fact a victim of its own amazing success.
"Getting an Airbnb" that is a person's real home can still be great, to be sure. But the familiar Airbnb experience is not what it used to be. Today you may be asked not to tell anyone living in the building that you are an Airbnb guest, who happened to me in New York and Paris. And when I see anti-Airbnb graffiti on the walls of a city like Lisbon or Barcelona, it doesn't make me feel like I'm living like a local; It makes me feel that my holiday is at the expense of the locals. It is a problem that is difficult to fix with plateaus and branding.
How Airbnb addresses this link, while responding to investors, remains to be seen. But, Bivens says, "I have the feeling that the pure wild west ethos that has steered the expansion of the air so far has had enough setbacks for the pendulum to start swinging the other way. And if they can adapt and thrive while observing democratically adopted laws and laws and taxes, they should have the opportunity to. "
As it turns out, it is easier said to create" a world where someone can hear anywhere "than done.