Airbnb has announced the launch of their Office of Healthy Tourism. The office is part of an initiative that promotes "local, authentic and sustainable" tourism in host countries, in an effort to promote a healthy relationship between Airbnb's service and the communities they're being offered in.
“With travel and tourism growing faster than most of the rest of economy, it is critical that as many people as possible are benefiting – and right now not all tourism is created equal. To democratize the benefits of travel, Airbnb offers a healthy alternative to the mass travel that has plagued cities for decades,” says Airbnb’s Global Head of Policy and Communications, Chris Lehane.
“Airbnb supports tourism that is local, authentic, diverse, inclusive and sustainable. Through the meaningful income earned by the mosaic that is our global community of hosts; our ability to promote tourism to places that need it the most; and the inherent sustainable benefits of hosting, Airbnb is providing the type of travel that is best for destinations, residents, and travelers alike.”
Airbnb's efforts here are necessary, as the company has faced considerable scrutiny for how their practices can have negative impacts on the housing market, particularly rental prices in popular metropolitan areas with housing shortages, like New York City and Paris. Permanent residency has reportedly dropped dramatically in some areas of the latter, which is blamed on landlords using the service to keep their apartments rotating. Some Airbnb hosts have completely ignored laws designed to prevent these sorts of abuse, and in some places, like San Francisco, new laws have been implemented to cut down the number of short term rentals.
Also, like many apps designed to put the onus of responsibility on users, Airbnb has faced considerable criticism over their vetting process. There have been reports of assault and harassment from hosts, and the story of a man who died on a tire swing at an Airbnb location have brought up questions about who has liability for those sorts of accidents. At a hotel, there would be standards of protocol and safety that the space would have to meet to get the permits for their business. For example, a swing that falls when a man sits in it. Airbnb hosts have no such oversight.
Airbnb is planning to share new data that advocates for the benefits of "healthy tourism" for their hosts and guests. The data is largely flattering, showing the amount of revenue brought in by travel through their site. It also argues that people are increasingly choosing spaces that advertise some aspect of their space being "green," whether it's clean energy or simply recycling facilities. Many also said that they considered the environmental benefits of sharing a home rather than renting a hotel room when making their travel choices.
In addition to all this, Airbnb created a new Tourism Advisory Board, inviting travel industry leaders from both in and out of the U.S. to offer some guidance as they expand. Airbnb's CEO Brian Chesky, told Fast Company last year that he wants to expand what people consider travel destinations, as just one example of how to promote tourism to areas that need it, and divert it from places that are oversaturated, like Paris.
“If I could summarize the major problem with travel, it’s millions of people are going to see a few things, rather than millions of people going to see millions of things,” said Chesky.
Diluting Airbnb's influence to more places could go in a bunch of different directions, but they're signaling that they're aware of a problem, and care about consumers who want to see it rectified.