Airbnb co-founders Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia have come a long way from renting out airbeds on the floor of their San Francisco apartment and hawking cereal boxes to their guests to make ends meet. With millions of apartments listed worldwide, the company’s current value stands at $31 billion, positioning it as the second-most profitable startup next to the ride-hail giant Uber. In March, financial papers reported that Airbnb’s Q3 numbers leapt a full 50% since the same time the previous year. The online service’s major successes may be due in part to its branding – Airbnb sets itself apart from other hospitality services by marketing itself as a waymaker for experience, rather than as a mere booking service. With Airbnb, the service explains, visitors can step beyond the typically packaged tourist experience and live as a local. This pitch has brought them far in their stateside expansions and is demonstrating similar success in nations abroad.
However, financial gains haven’t been limited to the company alone. In 2015, European hosts collectively made about $3 billion in revenue from their short-term rentals. Studies conducted by the platform’s research group further found that Airbnb guests tend to stay twice as long and spend twice as much locally than those who use traditional hotel services, with a full 42% of guest spending taking place in host neighborhoods. Analysts with the site postulate that this high guest engagement is due to Airbnb’s mission to facilitate authentic experiences; guests want to explore, rather than follow a predetermined “tourist” itinerary. Thus, Airbnb has a considerable positive impact on both domestic and international economies; in my current home city of Barcelona, the platform estimates that it generated over $175 million in 2013 alone, and further supported approximately 4,000 jobs.
That said, Airbnb is not content with the passive benefits it provides to city centers across the globe – it wants to do more. After releasing projections that the company will have boosted European economies by 340 billion euros by 2020, Airbnb announced its intent to invest 5 million euros in “ongoing investments for innovative, locally sourced projects” that vitalize authentic, local experiences. This is hardly a new move for the platform; to date, Airbnb has supported local projects in Barcelona, Berlin, Bologna, Dublin, Hamburg, Lisbon, Milan, and London. Airbnb has also committed itself to providing authentic travel experiences for its users by offering over 2,500 activities and tours across the world. Recently, the site even partnered with Vice Media to curate specialized tours in South Africa, Paris, New York, and Tokyo. While these planned travel experiences are offered as contest prizes to promote the partnership, they will soon be available for purchase to the general public.
Tourism has been forever changed by Airbnb’s entrance onto the international playing field, and we are all the better for it. Gone are the days of tourism homogenization; of grinding a city’s culture into digestible chunks for visitors. Today, travelers prize the authentic experiences that Airbnb facilitates. Airbnb has revolutionized tourism on a global scale – and we are all the better for it.