QUICK fire

airbeds. If it had stayed like that, we would not be talking about it.” So why the criticisms of Airbnb

in some quarters? “Tere is a lot of misinformation. We’re a high-profile company and we’re in a contentious space. Historically, hotels are not welcoming of new entrants.”

Local regulations What about adherence to regulations on health and safety, city zoning and residential property use? Blecharczyk says: “For every

jurisdiction, we have a responsible- hosting page. We try to publicise local regulations. Tere is a lot of detail specific to a destination. We play a role in educating hosts. We remind hosts to pay tax.” I point out there is no check on

the adherence to health and safety or fire regulations of listed properties – that it is leſt to hosts to comply or not. He says: “Tere is a confusion

of ends and means. Te end is to provide safety. Traditionally, how oſten does a fire inspection happen?

What might change in the meantime? “More than half our guests leave

feedback. We get information every few days. We learn a lot more than a traditional inspection might.” Blecharczyk insists: “We would not be in business and able to service 500 million guests if we did not take this seriously. “We started from a place where

there was inherent mistrust and we had to come to a place where this is an accepted idea. I’m very proud of our safety record. Te way we achieve that is different from the traditional hotel industry, but we are accountable to the same goal.”

‘Quick to blame’ Airbnb is frequently cited as a contributor to overtourism in cities such as Amsterdam, Barcelona or Venice. What does he say to that? Blecharczyk points out: “We’re

in 81,000 cities and overtourism is specific.” It’s a fair point. He insists: “We want to be a good partner. We want to work with cities. We

want to be seen as a net positive.” Yet he adds: “Tere is a lot more

to this than meets the eye. Tere is a lot of politics involved. It should not all be about us. Competing platforms don’t do nearly as much [as Airbnb]. When we limit ourselves, people just go on another platform. “Tere is a complex set of issues.

We work closely with Amsterdam. Has it [overtourism] got something to do with the way Amsterdam markets itself? “We’re so high-profile. People are

quick to blame every issue on us. I don’t say there are no issues. We want to do our part. We can help on these issues, we can help spread tourists over a broader area. But we also need to be pragmatic, work together, understand there will be trade-offs and recognise the bigger picture.” He adds: “Tese conversations

are not balanced. Everyone has their own agenda and there is a lot of misinformation. We want this to be a fact-based conversation. I’m an engineer – I like facts.”

How did Airbnb start? In summer 2007, I was living in San Francisco [with Airbnb’s two other founders]. The rent was raised. I thought ‘I’m moving out.’ The other two were designers and there was a design conference coming to San Francisco. All the hotels were full. They decided to rent out my room with an airbed and breakfast and put it on a blog post. Three designers stayed. We charged $80 a night each for four nights and made $1,000. We thought, ‘Why not make it as easy to book someone’s room as to book a hotel?’

When did it take off? It wasn’t easy going. Investors said: ‘It’s probably not a big market. Is it safe?’ It wasn’t until 2009, after the financial crisis, that it started to take off in New York.

What was key? We pioneered two things – how we handled money and reviews. We hold the money until a guest arrives. If something is not right, we return it. And guests review the host and hosts review the guests. They are very straightforward things that others weren’t doing. It helped develop trust.

Do you still host? I’ve had 650 guests stay in my home in the last four years.

30 MAY 2019


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