AIRBNB IS REVOLUTIONISING THE WAY THAT PEOPLE TRAVEL

Tourism is one of the largest industries in the world, contributing more than 10 percent of the world’s gross domestic product (GDP) in 2016. In South Africa, the sector contributed 2.9 percent to the GDP in 2016, according to the latest report from Stats SA, the Tourism Satellite Account for South Africa report released in 2018.

Part of the growth of this industry can be attributed to home-sharing company Airbnb, which some believe has revolutionised the industry — changing the way people travel and experience travel destinations. Airbnb boasts over 4-million listed properties in over 65,000 cities across the world.

According to its recent Healthy Travel and Healthy Destinations report, Airbnb has not only opened up accommodation options, it has helped fight tourism overcrowding and changed the economics of tourism to benefit locals.

 Fighting accommodation overcrowding

Across the eight global tourist destinations studied, at least two-thirds of all guest arrivals on Airbnb take place outside of traditional tourist areas, and 72 to 93 percent of Airbnb listings are located outside of areas that are at risk for overtourism — as a result of homes being less concentrated than hotels. This encourages geographic diversity and distribution of guest arrivals.

“One way to mitigate overtourism is dispersal. Spread visitors throughout the city so they don’t overwhelm certain districts and popular sites. Home sharing may help in two ways: firstly because shared listings are often more spread out geographically than commercial lodgings, and secondly, through what hosts themselves may recommend to their guests,” said Jonathan Tourtellot, the founder of the National Geographic Center for Sustainable Destinations.

Tourist spots to explore outside of standardised ones

In over 2.8-million Airbnb host guidebooks analysed, it showed that hosts’ recommendations of local and unique places to see are helping fight tourist crowding. The median guidebook-recommended location, according to the report is a 20-minute walk from the host’s listing, typically outside tourist hotspots, and two-thirds of recommended places to eat are within the same radius.

The report also showed that 61 percent of all Airbnb host guidebook recommendations offered around the world are only recommended by one host, meaning only the guests of that particular host are being directed to that location or activity through Airbnb.

Globally, this implies that today, one can find over a million individual-host guidebook recommendations that no other host recommends — a welcome antidote to standardised tourist maps that spawn what Tourtellot described as “generic businesses”. “These generic businesses force out distinctive local shops, eateries, and crafts,” he said.

More going to the local Airbnb host’s pocket

Airbnb previously released a report stating that its community generated R2.4-billion in economic activity in South Africa in 2016, which is the estimated sum of guest spending and host income.

Airbnb hosts keep up to 97 percent of every rand they charge to rent their space, compared to chain hotels, for example. They can then spend and reinvest their earnings in a number of ways, including household expenses, rent payments, renovations, or however they choose to spend it.

“From the destination point of view, tourism can be plotted on a spectrum from beneficial to problematic,” said Tourtellot. “At the beneficial end, we can posit that healthy travel is good for the visitor and good for the destination — its people, environment, culture, and character. The goal, of course, is to avoid conditions that fail to do that, as in the case of ‘leakage’, when a high proportion of tourist revenue goes to the bottom line of a far-away business or corporation rather than helping the local economy.”

This article was first published by The Huffington Post SA on 1 June 2018