Airbnb – has it now just become a numbers game?; but what’s your city’s number?

Airbnb, HomeAway and other short-term rental platforms are classic disruptors. They have changed the hospitality industry by offering authentic, personal experiences at competitive rates. Understandably, traditional accommodation providers, especially larger branded hotels, have been left bruised by the battering they have received over the past decade. But, they themselves have evolved, supported by stricter short-term rental laws now being passed that are diluting Airbnb and others growth, and in cases placing heavy restrictions on their activity.

You cannot escape headlines from across the world on the tougher stance being taken by city authorities. Whether that is San Francisco, Sydney, Paris, Toronto or Amsterdam, they all now have their own number, a number based on the annual nights properties are permitted to be legally rented out, and that list of cities goes on and on.

While in the airline sector there is clear evidence the arrival of Low Cost Carriers (LCCs) have stimulated passenger demand, opening up new markets for travel and allowing more travellers to take to the sky, and more often. In the hospitality sector the new sharing economy may have added to the availability in high occupancy markets, rather than complement the existing accommodation stock it has increasingly attracted guests from more traditional overnight providers.

As long ago as 2016, a well-referenced Morgan Stanley report noted that 49% of Airbnb customers had replaced a traditional hotel visit with the digital service – a figure that rose almost ten percentage points on the previous year and is sure to have risen in the subsequent years.

In a world where over tourism is now becoming recognised as a real problem for cities, policing short-term rentals has certainly become a channel to manage the problem and attempt to return to some form of sustainability. Amsterdam is one such city that is taking a particularly hard stance.

In the past week it is Toronto and Sydney that have grabbed the attention, the latter confirming plans for a 180 nights per year limit under new Short Term Rental Accommodation (STRA) laws being contemplated by the New South Wales government and summarised in a discussion paper which was released earlier this month.

While one in every two nights might seem strict, in Amsterdam, a city famous for its liberal stance to most things, that number is a sixth of that total, at just 30 nights per year. Last year 19 million tourists visited the Netherlands, more people than live in the country. The Netherlands Board of Tourism & Conventions says annual visitors are projected to increase by 50% over the next decade reaching 29 million.

The Netherlands has become a perfect example of how tourism boards are now transitioning from a destination promotion strategy to what is now effectively a destination management strategy and home sharing regulation is central to this.

Airbnb quite rightly has become a posterchild for the digital sharing economy. Its rise has been phenomenal to a reach that extends to over five million places to stay in more than 81,000 cities across the world. On an average night as many as two million people are staying in Airbnb rentals across the world. But, this extraordinary success has not been welcomed unreservedly.

Alongside its legacy accommodation rivals, neighbours and local residents of rental properties claim the business is hollowing out communities, forcing up rents, limiting availability for longer-term lets, and importing large numbers of tourists who display scant interest in courtesy to their temporary neighbours.

While the home sharing bubble has most certainly not burst, it is becoming more fragile as city authorities react to the changing dynamics of the market. What is clear is that regulations will see more headlines about cities introducing restrictions on the number of nights permitted for short-term rentals and will likely see more cities like Amsterdam with highly restrictive policies.

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