There are those who think travel is due a dismal winter.
And there are those who do not.
“I think there’s a new golden age of travel,” Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky told the Skift Global Forum last week. “Living and travelling are going to blur together.”
He made similar comments during the pandemic, hailing “a travel revolution”, when the world was on pause.
As our grand remote-working experiment continues to play out, stays of a month or longer now account for 20pc of its business, Airbnb says.
This summer, the peer-to-peer platform launched what it calls its biggest changes “in a decade”, including new categories, a ‘Split Stays’ feature allowing guests to split trips between different properties, and AirCover, a travel insurance offering.
Whatever you think of Airbnb, it’s impossible to ignore. The first ‘Air Bed and Breakfast’ was created in 2008 when Chesky and a friend inflated three airbeds in their San Francisco home. They noticed city hotels selling out for a conference, and figured that selling space on their floors would help to pay rent.
They figured right. Today, Airbnb has welcomed more than one billion guest arrivals and, since going public, has been valued at over $100bn. It’s a super-brand that has joined words like ‘Hoover’ or ‘Sellotape’ in our everyday language.
It hasn’t all been plain sailing. Its fees can be frustrating, it’s had PR wobbles (this year, it banned parties), and a 2014 logo upgrade got its share of laughs (the “bélo” blends a heart, location pin and letter ‘A’, but has been compared to all kinds of body parts).
In Ireland, as in many places, we have a Jekyll and Hyde relationship with Airbnb. Many of us have used it to find apartments for holidays or city breaks. Or perhaps you are one of thousands of Irish hosts, adding to income by renting out rooms (despite Covid-19, the average EU host earned just over €3,000 last year). But you’ve surely also worried about the platform’s effect on our housing and rental crises.
“We know we have a problem and that Ireland has a problem,” Airbnb’s general manager for Northern Europe, Amanda Cupples, told the Irish Independent recently, while denying that it is a root cause of housing shortages.
New rules for short-term rentals and holiday lettings, including a register for landlords, overseen by Fáilte Ireland, are expected to be in place in the coming months.
It’s a tricky balancing act. Clearly, Ireland’s housing and rental markets are in dire straits. But short-term rentals have always played a role in tourism, travellers clearly want what Airbnb provides, and what would happen to hotel prices if Airbnbs were pulled from the picture?
This isn’t just an Irish problem. From Berlin to Barcelona and New York, similar debates continue, and Airbnb continues to work with governments on short-term letting issues.
It’s not going away anytime soon.
Key to Airbnb’s success is a relentless push to innovate and spread its tentacles into other areas of travel — restaurant reservations in the US, for example, or ‘Airbnb Experiences’ where local businesses advertise everything from couples’ photo shoots in Dublin to ghost tours of Kilkenny.
In the future, Chesky says, travel “is going to be less about landmarks, less about that business meeting, and more about human connection, whether with companies or relationships.”
It’s come a long way from airbeds.