The home-sharing service Airbnb has grown quickly, and it’s no surprise why: those who rent from the service are able to enjoy lodging considerably cheaper than many hotels, while the renters are able to make a quick buck. But, like Uber, the new peer-to-peer service is running afoul of the establishment, especially in blue cities. Maybe the biggest of the blues, New York City, has a law on the books prohibiting renting one’s apartment out for less than 30 days if the renter is not present; Airbnb users risk fines in the thousands of dollars for using the service there.No doubt, NYC’s hotel industry—like DC’s taxi industry—is lobbying hard against what it sees as an upstart challenger unburdened by the same taxes and regulations the rest have to mind. In response, Airbnb said in a letter to NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio this week that, if allowed, it would pay $21 million in city and state taxes, “on top of—not in place of—lodging taxes the city already collects from hotels.” And, as the Washington Post reports, the firm has some more numbers it would like blue cities to see:
[Airbnb published a roundup of studies] on the service’s economic impact, with numbers that Airbnb will no doubt be touting regularly: Between these nine cities, Airbnb says, the site’s users are staying on average nearly twice as long as typical tourists, and spending about $300 more per trip – figures the company has illustrated for mass consumption here. […]“The real point is not ‘What is our impact on hotels?’” Turner says. “The point is how is this distributing spending across the city differently than the traditional tourism industry does? It’s going to local households directly; it’s being spent in more neighborhoods at those local businesses. If the same amount of money was spent in the traditional tourism industry, that would impact the city very differently than how it’s being spent on Airbnb.”
This is, no doubt, a savvy bit of brand management, but underneath that shiny PR gloss lies a portent of some big changes coming in this next century. Companies like Airbnb are part of the new economy emerging from the ashes of late industrial society, but the interests and habits of mind locked into the blue model want them dead. Hotels don’t want ordinary citizens competing with their often overpriced and boring offerings—even though a company like Airbnb can make it possible for someone to stay in their home. Regulated taxi companies want a monopoly on business, and hate competition from Uber and other companies that take advantage of the information web around us to offer more convenient service.We hope many more new companies emerge to challenge stale industries and outmoded ways of doing things. The information economy is still in its early stages, but it is already demonstrating enormous capacity to make human life richer and more interesting.