Will Airbnb become obsolete?

Until recently, Airbnb Inc. encapsulated the first-world problems of living in a global “superstar” city.

Over the past decade, the app that connects fly-by-night tourists and short-term renters to “cozy” lofts and five-star “experiences” morphed into a gig-economy nightmare for cities like Paris, Amsterdam and Barcelona. Booming demand fueled an over-supply of tourists, an under-supply of housing for locals and extra strain on public infrastructure. Scammers and fraudsters prospered. Many cities began a clamp-down.

That all seems like ancient history now.

If you could freely walk the world’s most famous city streets today, you would see humanity stopped in its tracks. National lockdowns and global travel bans have emptied bustling hotspots like Sydney’s Opera House, Bangkok’s night markets, the Louvre Museum in Paris and the Colosseum in Rome. Global tourist traps are being slammed shut, and the ecosystem that sprang up around them is falling apart — including Airbnb. Apartments once reserved for well-heeled tourists have seen bookings slump anywhere from 41% to 96%. They’re now on long-term rental sites or offered to health workers in solidarity.

At the moment, we’re all probably eager for the crush of humanity to come back to our cities. But when the sound of ambulance sirens stops filling the streets of Paris and Rome, and the stifling oppression of self-isolation lifts, we might still pine for a “cratering” of the Airbnb economy. That sounds harsh considering some use it to get spare cash out of their spare room — the firm says 14% of hosts are from households that include teachers. But in London or Paris, where the price of some studio apartments can run over $1 million, it’s unlikely to be teachers earning the equivalent of $30,000 who are able to offer central pied-à-terre to overseas visitors.

Paris has 100,000 empty homes and 100,000 second homes, according to the mayor’s office, fueling a sense of social injustice. One study of Airbnb in a Lisbon neighborhood between 2015 and 2017 found it looked less like a sharing economy and more like a buy-to-let craze, with 99% of short-term rentals marketed all year round. “Short-term rentals have had a disastrous impact on cities’ rental markets,” McGill University’s David Wachsmuth told The Intelligencer last month. Will a post-Covid-19 society really want that back?As Airbnb hosts apply for financial support to tide them over, they might reflect on a future that could be very different. Post-coronavirus tourism and city life may not rebound as quickly or smoothly as after previous disasters like 9/11 or SARS. Already, in China, the slow return of tourism is — understandably — skewed towards domestic, not international, trips. If France loses a chunk of its 2 million annual Chinese visitors and their 4 billion euros ($4.4 billion) in associated spending, that’s a rough prospect for rentals. But it will be good for housing stock. And Europe will have an incentive to cultivate its own domestic tourism industry. Satellite museums such as the Louvre-Lens, or lesser-known alternatives to globally-renowned hotspots — like Treviso, near Venice — might prosper.

It’s not just tourism: How we work, and travel for work, could also change long-term. Lockdowns in Italy and France have already seen irresponsible city-dwelling Northerners descend on family homes and rural towns in the south. They might stay there if working from home turns out to be a durable, safe option as countries ramp up tests and vaccine research. That’s a sobering thought for the likes of WeWork, which was cutting jobs and racking up losses even before the virus struck. Meanwhile, as urban-geography expert Laurent Chalard points out, it is industries out in the sticks that are thriving as city offices fall silent. Forgotten French textile factories are roaring back to life to make medical equipment. Society is asking for more essential goods and fewer ancillary services.

We shouldn’t imagine that cities will lose their ability to concentrate jobs, people and money. Europe’s greatest cities have survived plague, cholera and wars deadlier than Covid-19. And we will crave human contact even more after this virus, reckons venture-capital investor Stefano Bernardi, who is a rarity among his peer group as someone who shunned cities to live in the Dolomite mountains. As anyone currently juggling conference calls and childcare can attest, real face-time has value.

Still, this crisis may be a chance for a more balanced recovery than simply a return to the norms of over-valued, over-crowded and over-polluted cities. And if your next vacation is a trip to the suburbs, that will give the Mona Lisa more time to put her feet up.

Lionel Laurent is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering Brussels. He previously worked at Reuters and Forbes.



I don’t think it will be the same, but it will evolve in some form or another whether standalone or purchased by an Amazon or a Hotel chain.

It will take awhile but I actually think it go back to some of its roots, as we strive to appreciate people and experiences more when as the emergence from Quarantine begins.

I think the financial crisis will also require people to find ways to compensate for reduced earnings or joblessness.


I think it will come back to its roots - many people who do home share or entire homes in destination areas who didn’t get greedy and take out 2nd and 3rd mortgages will survive as well.

I used to live in San Diego. When I left my South La Jolla apartment (with balcony, 2 pools, jacuzzi, ocean views, and 1/4 mile walk to a surf break) rent was $2,800 per month. That same rent, due in no small part to the STR market, is now $4,600 per month. Without utilities. Older building. This is far more than a 3.2% CPI increase. At one point in time, before I moved in 2014, many of the apartments were leased and then sub leased (illegally) as AirBnB units. It all stopped when someone who lived in a house down the road rented “his” apartment to someone with 3 dogs who disrupted one of the buildings and ate walls. One tenant, who had done well while quietly renting her spare room, was almost evicted.

I’m all for responsible renting, but it’s time the market shook itself up so people who are actually living someplace can find a rental.


Long before Airbnb and other online booking platforms, even before the age of the worldwide web, there were traditional B&Bs, lodging houses, guest houses, etc. that did a successful business. 20 years ago I was housing students from an island near where I lived that only had a school for up to grade 10. As my 3 daughters are 5 years each apart in age, I had spare bedrooms as they grew up and left home. The island kids got a boarding allowance from the school board to lodge in one of 2 small cities within an hour or two of their island, and their parents topped that meager amount up by about $100.
Those kinds of situations will still be viable. I hope the whole houses bought up to str won’t.


People rented cabins in the mountains and houses at the beach. I am hoping my website gets more traffic, I have a sign out on the highway I could even register as a hotel and put out a vacancy sign.

If Air went up in a puff of smoke tomorrow I would miss the platform but I would benefit from less competition and a higher bar of entry into the STR market in my town which will still be there. I may take it a bit further and manage/market for others to fill the void I already have a website/booking engine that can handle that and has a property management system and CRM.

I would crush it



And that’s what I was involved in - almost forty years ago. Things have changed so much since then. And a couple of years before that, like @muddy, I was housing students in my home.

Now, on a different continent altogether, I’m still in the business of providing hospitality. Probably because it’s something I really enjoy. I must, to have been doing it all these years.

So who knows whether Airbnb will survive? But I will. I’ll still be in this business, with or without Airbnb.

My feelings exactly. If Airbnb doesn’t continue, or continues in a different way, I suspect it will sort out the wheat from the chaff. The ‘hosts’ who bought property simply to get onto the Airbnb bandwagon will disappear. The ‘hosts’ who thought ‘oh, we’ll give it a try’ will vanish.

Those of us who love doing STR and enjoy running a small business without the thought of making millions (a quick buck) will survive.


I think the article is saying that “Airbnb” which has become a term for all sorts of “amateur” run rentals as some would call us, will be very different. So tourism on the whole will be smaller scale and there will still be a big supply of hosts. Perhaps even more hosts trying to enter the market because their previous line of work doesn’t exist. I suspect we will all have to get used to less business, lower rates and a lower standard of living for everyone.

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I heard someone in the hospitality industry note the other day that some people will steer to hotels more thinking that they have more standards cleanliness protocols while other may be drawn to Airbnb type rentals since they will interact with fewer people. I think that business will decline for those of us who don’t have ensuite bathrooms.

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This host will not accept that without a fight. If Air goes away it is an opportunity to take more market share not less. I do understand that not all hosts are in destination locations and they may suffer or go out of business.


Well you will be plenty busy then! Fighting, not hosting. LOL.

Seriously I think some of us are well positioned to continue, like me. I’m basically a roadside stop with almost 600 five star cleanliness ratings. No way any hotel can be more sanitary than my place. I’m not tourist based so am not worried about that. It’s just a matter of overall less travel and possibly more hosts due to economic disruption.

As far as short vacations away from the big city but not flying anywhere you should be well positioned but will still have the issue of less vacationing overall. I don’t know what the market is going to do but my IRAs have lost 18% YTD and I don’t think we are done. That’s all my fun money for 3-4 years. Lots of folks will just stop spending on luxuries like discretionary travel out of fear even if they have resources.

I had already been thinking of something vis a vis the climate crisis that I think is completely possible but far in the future, and that is virtual vacations.

How will we do? Opinions please…
Tiny Tiki Retro Hideaway.
The booking sites love to promote us, we will do more private book direct promotion, we will book photo ops, continue to be absolutely authentic and OOAK. I hope the guests come back! :slight_smile:

We are thinking of more actively partnering with other similar places that are about a days drive away, such as in Russian River and Big Sur to the north, or Joshua Tree and Idyllwild to the east.

Partnering how?

Curious how you see that working?


Well, for example applauding them for choosing Deetjens! Haha one of my favorite places on earth! And 3 sets of guests had just stayed or dined there on arrival here<><> (not because of anything I did…)

Maybe in insta we can mention each other or something like that. " in between RRR and Deetjens/ Treebones" So that a potential guest can find other cool places when they are on our insta.
Create some kind of Map trail of cool places… I dunno really, but it may be worth a try!

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San Francisco came up with a pretty good compromise that prevented the majority of “whole house” rentals. You can rent your house out for up to 90 days a year without your presence there but all other nights, you must be living there, sleeping there, etc. That knocked out all the “buy to let” speculation and left folks like me who rent out rooms. Literally half of the Airbnb listings disappeared from the city overnight when that regulation took effect. We get a business license and everything if we are simply offering rooms 365 days a year or the whole house for under 90 days a year. I would think other cities would want to adopt such a regulation. It has helped the struggling local retailers (last year I alone hosted enough people to eat potentially 1500 meals in my neighborhood). Win win as more housing will go back into long term and the neighborhoods get a share of the tourist dollars that use to stay concentrated in the downtown areas near the hotels. I suspect this model will spread and will pare back Airbnb but not make it obsolete.


I wish they would do that in nyc. The hotel industry has been too strong.

… but with covid, especially hitting Queens as hard as it has, I can’t see many of us local hosts opening our homes again for the next 15-24 months, however legal it is.

(Not sure how much news is getting out there, but we’ve got it bad here. My city council representative and his wife both have it, my friend’s grandmother got sent to a hospital and misplaced. By the time her family tracked her down she had been dead 3 days and they had 12 hours to find a funeral home that would take her before she got dumped in a mass grave.)

Good luck and stay safe. Wear a mask. Wash your hands.


Well, no. She’s distraught. At the same time, her father’s best friend died and her niece had it bad. For her sweet 16 birthday her 103 degree fever finally broke.

This is not the flu. This is terrible.

Thank you for posting this as painful as it is, too many people are not taking this serious. A healthy dose of reality is what we all need right now. I hope you and your family is keeping safe.


San Francisco was, I think, the first to declare the shelter in place order and it shows. We have leveled out at under 100 known new cases a day for the whole Bay Area of which San Francisco has under 10% of the population. Mayor Breed showed real leadership in making that hard decision almost 4 weeks ago. The rest of California was not that far behind but the delay really shows. just a 3 day wait more than doubles the starting point of the then exponential rise.

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Thanks so much for stopping in. I’m sorry for the occasion though. Because I look at the NYTimes daily I had seen some coverage of Queens and a story about a grandmother that couldn’t be found…but I didn’t click on the story. Is it the same, if you know?