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"From stars to rooms": Airbnb has revolutionized tourism?

The phenomenon of airbnbization


Four weeks, usually in August, hotel full board; all booked in a travel agency. Another time. The holiday in Italy has radically changed: the holidays have been shortened, prices increased, some formulas of reception and booking now disappeared. The cause is certainly economic, but there is also a cultural factor that has led, especially the new generations, to a very different use of tourism. With this, even new criticalities.

A phenomenon that has certainly taken hold in the last decade, in Italy as in the world, and that has contributed to change is Airbnb.

Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia, two founders of the start-up, found themselves in 2008 at the mercy of the most important financial crisis since the '29. To round up, they decided to rent three beds (air mattresses inflated in the living room, hence the name of the company) at reasonable prices: this is how Airbnb was born. The rise is rapid and in just over ten years the company has established itself in the world hospitality market, with numbers that make it directly access to the circle of giants of the gig economy: 6 million active ads, over 1 billion check-in, 4 million hosts scattered in 220 countries around the world. Caves, yurts, towers, boats, containers, tree houses: you can stay in any type of structure. But the company goes beyond overnight, offering an endless series of experiences, virtual and on site. All requests are satisfied: tarot reading; an abdominal course held by an Olympic athlete; safari with leopards; K-pop lessons; cooking classes for the preparation of gnocchi. In short, a Mirabilandia of tourism and entertainment.

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The advent of this platform has certainly allowed homeowners to gain something and, for many who offer experiences, to make their passion a source of gain. However, are there consequences, negative factors, resulting from the intensive use of Airbnb? Has the damage already been done? Are there alternative solutions? Riccardo Staglianò tried to answer these questions in his book L’affittacamere del mondo. Airbnb è la nostra salvezza o la rovina delle città? (Einaudi 2020) in which he spoke about the views of the hosts, the concerns of the hoteliers and the tax issues that involved the platform.

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Certainly the advent of Airbnb has affected the real estate market of large art cities, especially in Italy, the fifth most visited country in the world. Large real estate groups buy apartment packages for tourist use, taking them away from residential use and thus contributing to higher prices. Not much of a rounder business. The phenomenon of airbnbification of cities has certainly not helped the hotel companies, a sector that in Italy has 32,000 facilities and hundreds of thousands of professionals, not included. Obviously, Airbnb should not be seen as the scapegoat for the crisis in the sector. As the general manager of Federalberghi, Alessandro Massimo Nucara, tells the author of the book: "Tourism is growing, it is a big market and there is room for all those who respect the rules". There is in fact a disparity in tax terms between hotels and platform: Ires, Irap, VAT, Imu, Tari, Siae, TV tax are just some of the tax acronyms borne by the entrepreneur; while the digital giant should pay a 21% flat tax, launched in 2017 by the Gentiloni government. It should not by chance: there were no appeals to the Tar and missed payments.

Is there a more sustainable alternative?

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Fairbnb is a cooperative of workers, founded in 2018 with the aim of promoting sustainable tourism. A few simple principles: "one Host - one house", that is, each host can only provide a house, thus avoiding the creation of large real estate groups. In addition, a commission of 15% is required to the tenant, distributed in this way: half goes to the cooperative, half reinvested "in social projects that counteract the negative effects of tourism. Residents will vote to support those projects they want to see in their neighborhoods: food cooperatives, playgrounds, ecological projects, community cafes".

Currently present in a dozen European states, including Italy, France and Belgium, Fairbnb is a made in Italy platform brave, that challenges the digital giants. Will solutions like these be the future of tourism?