“As Invisible Tourists, we want to support locals of the places we visit, not make their lives more difficult.”
In recent years, the use of Airbnb and other home-stay accommodation has exploded internationally. Sitting on the sidelines with one watchful eye monitoring this trend, as usual I decided to be a bit of a skeptic before jumping on the bandwagon and investigate the little-known facts about using a service like Airbnb for myself.
Despite its growing popularity there are some pretty troubling issues with Airbnb and similar counterparts, leading many to ask if there are any ethical alternatives to Airbnb? Here I’ll reveal what it’s like to lift the lid on the hidden Pandora’s box of this craze – the results may surprise you, as they did me!
Yes, loads of people use Airbnb all the time without issues and that’s fine. Different people prioritise different things because there are different types of travellers. Many of my fellow travel bloggers could get you discounts on your first Airbnb booking and that’s fine, too.
In saying that, there is a time and a place for these services so I’d rather
speak about the unpopular truths
that seem to become buried under the discount codes that are worth considering before you book a stay with a homestyle accommodation service like Airbnb.
I first published this article in March 2018 and have updated it since to reflect more recent events. Be sure to read my concluding comments for my overall thoughts on short-term homestay services.
This guide to Airbnb problems will cover:
- 8 important reasons to reconsider using services like Airbnb
- What a lack of tourism does to neighbourhoods overrun with Airbnb listings
- Are there any sustainable & ethical alternatives to Airbnb?
- Concluding whether you should use services like Airbnb
This article forms part of my top strategies for to how to be a responsible a tourist, detailing effective tips towards ethical tourism to benefit visitors and locals alike. It also features in my #1 Amazon New Release book, which outlines my blueprint for what we can do as tourists to enrich our travel experiences and avoid contributing to issues caused by overtourism.
Important reasons to reconsider using services like Airbnb
I can totally hear you questioning my logic… You’re thinking, “But, aren’t you all about travelling like a local and helping people learn how to not look like a tourist? Then what’s wrong with renting a local’s place on Airbnb?
and it’s cheaper than hotels, right?”
There’s a saying, “Don’t knock it ‘til you’ve tried it” so truth be told, I
stayed in an Airbnb before. I was with a group for a girls’ getaway and my friend had booked the accommodation on our group’s behalf.
The place was fine (although I prefer to have my own bed rather than share with a friend!) Despite this and combining it with the facts I discuss below, it just wasn’t for me and may not be for you as well.
To clarify, in this opinion piece
I’m not referring to traditional Bed and Breakfast (B&B) accommodations.
These are completely fine as they are regulated and in areas zoned for tourists. I’ve stayed in many throughout the UK, Europe, New Zealand & Japan and fully support these businesses.
Let’s start with me asking you a few questions:
- Do you value your precious travel time, hate inconveniences and prefer to play it safe with accommodation rather than put yourself in a position that could have been avoided when you travel?
- Do you also prefer to enjoying everything a city has to offer without feeling like you’re getting in the way of locals going about their daily lives?
If you answered yes to these questions, you’re likely to prefer hotels anyway so this post will probably confirm why you don’t like Airbnb either. If you answered no, the below facts may convince you why you should reconsider using a service like Airbnb for your next trip.
While Airbnb’s slogan is “travel like a local”, there are some dark truths that actually make life more difficult for the locals they claim to support.
Let’s get into it!
1. Airbnb could be illegal in the city you’re visiting
This is a pretty surprising and very important point. Just because there are listings for your destination
doesn’t mean the host and Airbnb are abiding by the local laws. For instance, here are some facts that might make you think twice about using Airbnb and similar services in the below major cities.
These are just a few examples and definitely not the only places where Airbnb is problematic. I highly advise doing some research into your destination if you are considering using Airbnb for your accommodation:
Airbnb problems in New York City, United States
Did you know in 2014 that 72% of reservations made in New York City were illegal?
The New York state attorney general’s office released a report on Airbnb listings that revealed this unfortunate fact. Local laws in New York make it illegal to rent an entire apartment on Airbnb for less than 30 days, as this helps to keep the long-term supply of property available to locals. Despite this, New York City is one of Airbnb’s biggest markets where listings under 30 days are available to tourists.
“Airbnb consistently undermines the City’s efforts to preserve affordable housing, and regularly attempts to thwart regulations put in place to protect New York City residents.” ~
statement from NYC Council members Helen Rosenthal and Jumaane Williams.
Airbnb problems in Barcelona, Spain
Almost half of holiday rentals in Spain’s second-largest city are unlicensed according to the council, which makes them illegal.
In 2016 Barcelona fined Airbnb €600,000 for refusing to adhere to local laws by continuing to advertise unlicensed properties. As a result, Catalonia’s capital has a team of inspectors who wander the streets sniffing out illegal rentals using designated apps that cross-reference licences with advertised properties. This helps to identify illegal properties and gives authorities the power close down the premises, boot out occupants and fine the owner €60,000.
“Barcelona exists for its people. The priority is it’s a place to live.”
~ Janet Sanz, Barcelona Housing Councillor.
Read my crucial Barcelona travel tips to not look like a tourist when visiting.
Airbnb problems in Paris, France
In 2015, 44% of advertised properties on Airbnb were permanently available for rental, despite laws in France’s capital stating that holiday rentals are capped at only being available for 120 days of the year.
The survey that revealed this disturbing fact triggered raids across Paris and fines of up to €25,000 for hosts. However, the authorities are now looking to increase this fine to €100,000 like Berlin (see below). It is now necessary for hosts to obtain a registration number from the Town Hall so authorities can monitor the 120 day cap is not exceeded and so hosts cannot avoid paying taxes.
Airbnb problems in Japan
The recent explosion of visitors to Japan looking to travel on the cheap meant Airbnb’s started popping up in unzoned areas to capitalise on the new demand.
Being an ultra-conservative country, locals filed an overwhelming number of “tourist pollution” complaints: unruly tourists coming and going at all hours, hosting noisy parties in otherwise quiet neighbourhoods and disrespecting local customs.
In June 2018 the Japanese government resorted to tackling illegal Airbnb and similar homestay accommodations across the country (known as
“minpaku”) by requiring hosts in legally zoned areas to obtain a
license, placing 180-day quotas on when properties can be available to rent and shutting down those who did not comply. This crackdown is said to have cost Airbnb $10 million.
Issues with Airbnb in Berlin, Germany
Germany’s capital got so tired of Airbnb creating a rental property shortage for locals they created a law entitled “Zweckentfremdungsverbot”…
What a mouthful, right! Roughly translating to “Anti-Airbnb” this law bans short-term leasing of properties to tourists without a city permit. Hosts in Berlin can be fined up to €100,000 for disobeying this law and you could be left without accommodation if your host is busted.
Airbnb issues throughout Europe
In 2019, ten European cities banded together and sent a joint letter to the European Commission highlighting the flaws of services like Airbnb. Cities who suffered from “explosive growth” of short-term Airbnb listings – Amsterdam, Barcelona, Berlin, Bordeaux, Brussels, Krakow, Munich, Paris, Valencia and Vienna – demanded the Commission address this issue during their next agenda.
Many Other Destinations: Illegal Subletting
Another disturbing trend with Airbnb is illegal subletting. Did you know recent statistics in Australia revealed that 35% of Airbnb listings are by people
who don’t even own the property, and do so without the knowledge of their landlord?
“Think of what you’d say to a neighbour if they were to ask who you are and why you’re staying there… Awkward.”
While tenants may not see an issue with secretly renting out their spare room on Airbnb for extra cash, there are risks involved for both the tenant and property owner. What the tenant fails realise is they could actually be in breach of their leasing agreement by having additional people reside in the property.
This leads to exceeding the number of people residing on the premises, handing out security keys without authorisation, no applicable insurance for issues related to subleasing, more issues regarding illegal subletting here. A tenant subletting without the permission of the property owner can result in eviction.
2. Airbnb can have negative impacts on locals’ quality of life
Tourists hiring a place on Airbnb to enjoy a “cheaper” holiday actually pushes rent prices up for locals who
need to live in the city. Tourists are visitors competing with locals for accommodation. The only difference is locals need it long-term, but hosts can charge tourists more for short-term stays so this is way more appealing to some.
For instance in 2018 on the Spanish island of Palma de Mallorca, tourist lets sharply increased by 50% due to demand, which in turn lead to
residential rents rising by 40%. This made housing unaffordable for most local residents and pushed them out. As a result t
he island voted to ban Airbnb listings to make housing affordable for residents who needed to live and work.
Making the conscious decision to save a few bucks for a trip of your choice
should not come at the expense
of an actual local’s way of life. As invisible tourists we want to support locals of the places we visit, not make their lives more difficult!
Residents are also concerned and complain to Airbnb about the
constant stream of different tourists
bumping their luggage up and down stairs in apartment blocks as well as coming and going at all hours. For long-term residents it’s easy to empathise that all the thumping and noise is bound to get annoying.
As someone who lives in a city where over 200,000 properties sit vacant due to landlords not renting them to locals (or anyone at all), I’ve seen first-hand how this has
negatively impacted the rental market
by causing prices to skyrocket as long-term rentals for locals become scarce. It isn’t really fair (or ethical) on the local population trying to get by.
It’s also becoming known that some Airbnb hosts are treating their rentals as businesses. Padlocks or combination touchpads on doors rather than keys, instructions stuck around the property and “No Smoking” signs are dead giveaways that the Airbnb is being treated as a permanent holiday rental, which I mentioned previously under point #1 is probably an illegal listing. What happened to just renting out a spare room?
3. There’s no reception, housekeeping or room service
Before you dismiss me as a total snob, hear me out!
Hotels employ dozens of locals
to take care of things like housekeeping, reception, concierge services, kitchenhands and the like to keep the place running smoothly. To me, providing locals with jobs is quite important and staying in a hotel supports this cause.
Additionally, the lack of a reception area with an Airbnb means checking in and out with your host may not be flexible enough to suit your travel plans, as I’ll expand on in point #4 below.
Another downside is there’s
no place to leave your luggage after checking out, either! The small conveniences that come with hotels are quite convenient, aren’t they?
4. You’re at the complete mercy of your host
Even if a room is showing available, the host has the right to change their mind and
cancel your booking at a moment’s notice.
If you’re like me and prefer to be prepared and organised, being left in limbo a few days before a trip – and all other accommodation in the area being sold out – literally sounds like my idea of a nightmare.
In another example, imagine arriving at your Airbnb only to find two people already there hanging curtains, a TV left face-down on the lounge and a strong dog odour throughout. Animal fur, hair and dust were all over the house, it clearly hadn’t been cleaned in very long time, mouse droppings were in the kitchen and other accommodation options nearby were all sold out. Here’s how Airbnb treated these guests in this actual situation.
Airbnb have thousands of complaints about how they can’t really do anything to assist guests who are left stranded. In contrast, hotels have a lot to lose from this and will find you a room or compensate you somehow if they’ve taken your money.
Let’s not forget the potential issue of your
host running late
to meet you to exchange keys. This unaccounted-for delay could seriously affect your travel plans and may lead to you missing a crucial flight or train to your next destination. With a hotel, checking in and out times are made clear and during that period there is always someone there when you need to leave so it’s simple to plan your journeys.
There isn’t always time to wait around for someone to race from one side of the city to the other to collect keys!
Personally, I like to sleep in for as long as possible before having to get up and ready whilst I’m on holiday. With many Airbnbs hosts require you to do the washing up, take out the rubbish and may leave you with other
you need to fulfil before you leave. I do all that at home and would rather forget about that during a holiday – thankfully a hotel will have your back here so you can spend more time out exploring.
5. Do tourists
need an entire kitchen (and house)?
A lot of the time tourists don’t really need an entire house or apartment with a kitchen when they’re travelling short-term. To me, visiting a new place is all about getting out there and part of this is
experiencing local, authentic food.
In turn this helps to support local jobs and businesses. Cooking some noodles in an Airbnb in an effort to save money does not. Sorry, but it’s true! Hotels do a good enough job of providing the basic amenities needed for a stay.
Additionally, booking an entire apartment or house on Airbnb means tourists could be inadvertently taking away long-term accommodation from a local. If the rental is being run as a business by a company who has multiple property listings, it’s usually wise to steer away from it as it goes against the original idea that Airbnb was founded on – a property owner renting out a spare room.
6. Privacy is never guaranteed
So, your Airbnb host has also allowed friends to crash at their place during your stay and failed to mention it at any point. This may put a damper on the romantic weekend away you had planned with your partner as the intimate moments you were hoping for may not be so intimate after all!
Recently, some stories have emerged about Airbnb hosts using sneaky hidden cameras in the bedrooms of their rentals. If that oddly-placed object or random smoke alarm appears to have a little webcam lens on closer inspection, you can be sure that thing is hooked up to the internet and the host is watching your every move.
Alternatively, in a hotel you’re never going to be left surprised with an unexpected stranger when you come back to your room after a long day of sight-seeing and the likelihood of being spied on in your room is almost non-existent. A hotel doesn’t need to spy on you because they have insurance cover. It’s never ok to film someone without their consent.
7. Lack of safety and security regulations
Consistent standards and regulations are lacking across Airbnb rentals as they are basically private properties. Due to this hosts don’t have to follow the same strict regulations that hotels do like fire, security and safety. What fire and other types of hazards are there in your rental? Can you tell from the photos?
As mentioned earlier, illegal subletting sees a tenant distribute unauthorised copied keys to short-term visitors, resulting in unknown people in a residential block having access to building amenities. This can be a major security concern for other residents in the building who are there legally.
People who list on Airbnb also don’t have to pay for the same insurances that hotels do, therefore if anything were to happen Airbnb may not cover you at all. This also includes theft of your cash/valuables from the property, whether it was from the host, other guests or as a result of a break-in. Is there even a safe or secure place to store your valuables during your stay?
Additionally, some of the properties may not be very child friendly which is sometimes only possible to be discovered on arrival.
8. Bait and switch
If you’re not familiar with this sneaky tactic, bait and switch refers to the generally illegal act of “baiting” a guest into paying for a rental that is substituted for an inferior one later down the track. The
intent is never to provide you the rental
in the great location with amazing photos you paid for.
If your host is being a bit shady, they may contact you close to your arrival date to inform you of the change so you’re made to think you’re left with no other option but to accept the sub-standard accommodation they offer instead, sometimes even for more money!
Know your rights
if this happens to you.
You’re not obligated to accept their new offer. If your host is asking you to switch without officially changing the reservation on Airbnb, you’ll need to ask the host to cancel your reservation so you can get a full refund. If you have further issues, you’ll need to immediately call Airbnb so they can resolve the problem for you or find another place to stay, which may prove difficult if all other accommodation in the area is sold out at the time.
This fraudulent trend is becoming more and more common with Airbnb. Sure it’s also possible this can happen with smaller hotels as well, but is less likely as hotels have much more to lose by participating in this dirty practice.
You can read some Airbnb bait and switch stories here and here to give you an idea of what could happen.
What a lack of tourism does to neighbourhoods overrun with Airbnb listings
As we all know, in 2020 tourism completely ground to a halt due to a global event that shall not be named. This helped to starkly amplify the issues caused by short-term rentals for even the most stubborn of deniers.
Let’s examine the knock-on effects caused by the absence of tourism in destinations that had high percentages of Airbnb listings.
Airbnb issues in Lisbon, Portugal
In the early months of 2020, there were 22,000 Airbnb listings in Lisbon. A sudden lack of tourists meant the majority of these sat empty for months.
Luís Mendes from Living in Lisbon stated, “ has helped expose the negative aspects of Portugal’s recovery from the financial crisis, which was driven by real estate and tourism rather than a focus on the basic needs of local people.”
This excellent article about overtourism in Lisbon, Portugal highlights the need and urgency for sustainable cultural tourism if you’re interested in learning more about the topic. Unfortunately, this issue is not unique to Lisbon and is further proof of why being an
whilst travelling is win-win for everyone.
Airbnb issues in Barcelona, Spain
Local authorities are seeking to repossess empty short-terms rentals. If vacant properties don’t re-enter the long-term rental market for local residents, new legislation allows authorities to purchase them outright at 50% of the market value.
The plan for seized properties is to be rented by the city as public and subsidised housing, while potentially fining the owners from
900,000 for properties left vacant for 2 years.
Airbnb issues in Athens, Greece
According to local residents in Kaisariani, Athens, their neighbourhood actually became a “tourist hotbed” full of Airbnbs rather than a residential area.
Airbnb issues in Paris, France
As one of Airbnb’s top destinations globally, tourism to Paris took a huge hit. According to the Deputy Mayor of Paris, the city “needs to use the pandemic to address affordable housing and supply.
In the four central arrondissements of Paris, a quarter of all properties are now no longer homes but purely short-term rentals for tourists.” As a result the city is planning to hold a referendum on the future of Airbnb listings.
Airbnb issues in Dublin, Ireland
One of my Ireland travel tips for tourists is to avoid Airbnb. Due to increased demand in short-term listings from tourists and limited supply, Dublin saw rents for local residents skyrocket and more than double from 2011 – 2019. The sudden lack of tourists in 2020 meant 64% of short-term Airbnb listings in Dublin rushed to enter the long-term rental market instead. Great news for locals, at least!
Are there any sustainable & ethical alternatives to Airbnb?
Now we’ve examined all the issues with unregulated homestay accommodation services, it begs the question – are there any ethical alternatives to Airbnb? The answer is yes! There are sustainable services that can be used to help avoid contributing to overtourism issues. All it takes is a look back to the time before the sharing economy took off!
Read my detailed guide to ethical alternatives to Airbnb for responsible tourists that actually benefit locals, rather than leaving their neighbourhoods empty shells of their former selves.
Concluding why you should reconsider services like Airbnb
Sure, there certainly are benefits of using Airbnb if it’s done in an ethical and legal manner.
Thousands of travellers use the platform without ever having an issue. I’m not going to dispute that and I’m certainly not saying ALL hosts are bad – it’s neither fair nor accurate to paint everyone with the same brush. Besides, this opinion piece is not about that. It’s about questioning
whether a service like this should be allowed to continue unregulated.
There is a time and a place for homestay accommodation. For instance, in rural areas where accommodation choices are slim services like Airbnb can actually help locals. In major cities where there already is plenty of regulated accommodation, whole property rentals by hosts listing multiple properties
should be avoided
in order to help preserve local life and their culture.
If short-term rentals have taught us anything, it’s now very clear that they create the likes of a horizontal hotel that spans the breadth of a city, pushing out local residents.
I do think that initially the idea of Airbnb was fantastic a few years ago, where hosts would share a room of their home with a visitor who wished to experience the city like a local. Unfortunately, there are always people looking to make a quick buck,
exploit the system
and ruin the experience for everyone.
As someone who values time more than anything else when travelling, the explosion of illegal listings, risks and ethical issues associated with Airbnb and the like
do not outweigh the benefits
of staying in a hotel for me. Considering that a pair of YouTubers also pranked Airbnb by listing a dollhouse and made $3,000 worth of bookings, it really begs the question of how much listings are actually checked.
By ignoring local laws, causing negative impacts on locals’ quality of life and lack of consistent standards, I believe unregulated homestay accommodation is unethical and I’m sorry to say for these reasons cannot support it.
What are your thoughts? Do you feel the same? Let me know in the comments below! If you found this article helpful or you learnt something new, please share it or take a look at my popular
travel guides and itineraries
for more ways to help you NOT look like a tourist on your next trip.
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Until next time,
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Featured image & New York pin image credit: Unsplash
Paris pin image credit: Chris Karidis
Airbnb logo used under Wikimedia Commons
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