We launched Spotted by Locals in 2008 a little before Airbnb did. Their slogan when they launched was “Travel like a human”. And it certainly was a very human way to travel. We’ve visited the Airbnb HQ, stayed in over 50 different Airbnbs and met really nice people who shared a room and enjoyed connecting. We also saved a lot of money. Everybody (except hotel owners) loved the concept. It was the sharing economy in optima forma.

Airbnb has done a great job and has become hugely popular. They’ve done so well, that they hardly have had any serious competition over the years. But this success changed a whole lot…

More money, more problems

The Airbnb founders started with nothing (they maxed out on their credit cards to fund the launch). Now, Airbnb is and one the 200 most valuable companies in the world. It’s mostly owned by large investors, which means they are under big pressure every year to keep earning more money.

Airbnb has really had a lot of positive impact in the world over the years. But I think the big pressure they’re under to maximise profits has led to various issues that will be hard if not impossible to reverse.

Airbn is no longer very “human”

Many early users of us Airbnb (including ourselves) feel that Airbnb is no longer the wonderful community of “real people” renting out a spare room that was. The fact is that most Airbnbs are managed by commercial companies (multiple-unit operators and full-time hosts. They accounted for around 71% of Airbnb’s $14.1 billion revenue in its top 12 markets in 2020). Professional hosts simply bring in more money for Airbnb. We ourselves haven’t met a human when checking in or out of our Airbnb for many years now.

A few months ago Airbnb launched “Rooms” to try to bring back the human connection. For the first time since 2009 the CEO of Airbnb has even started hosting again… Some cynics may call it a PR stunt and cosmetic change, but I genuinely think they would like to bring back that community feeling. It’s the long-term key to survival. But I do think it’s a lost battle.

Even in the unlikely event that Airbnb would shrug off its investors and dare to lose lots of money on the short term by limiting rentals only to non-professional hosts, I think it will be very difficult to change the perception many people now have of Airbnb as a company that prioritises profits over community. Airbnb should perhaps face the fact they’re now part of the rental economy, and no longer the sharing economy.

Short term rental is driving out locals

In many places renting out your apartment via Airbnb is much more profitable than renting out to locals. It’s more flexible, and there are fewer restrictions. No wonder many people do so. So did we!

While living in Amsterdam, I slowly watched our neighbourhood being taken over by Airbnbs. Most people in Amsterdam can now only rent out their rooms for a maximum of 30 days a year. We definitely hear fewer trolley cases rolling past our windows in the center of Amsterdam, but at the same time this has made it so profitable to rent out an apartment via Airbnb that more people have started Airbnb-ing.

In Athens Greece, where we live part of the year, there are fewer restrictions and many more problems. Many of our friends can no longer afford to rent an apartment in a “nice” neighbourhood or move back in with their parents. And in our neighbourhood, many apartments are empty when they are not used by Airbnb guests.

The alternative: home swapping

When you exchange your home, you don’t leave your apartment empty. It not only saves you a lot of money, it’s also more social, more sustainable and safer. Home exchange is – we think – the real “sharing economy”. There’s plenty of great platforms out there!

We of course are going to make the change from hosting on Airbnb to swapping. Do you live in a European capital or big city, and are you flexible to work wherever you want (some of the time)? You might want to do the same and join our Society of Home Office Swappers…