The Future of Tourism and Airbnb: Is This Where We Wanted to Go?

We recently published The Future of Airbnb and the ‘Sharing Economy’ by Jeroen A. Oskam. In this post the author explains the motivation behind the book.

Last year I was invited by the world’s first “crystal ball gazer” in tourism, Ian Yeoman, and his co-editor Una McMahon-Beattie to write a book in their new series on The Future of Tourism. I had been studying Airbnb for a few years with the futures view Ian had introduced me to. And although it is always good to see that one’s analyses and argumentations have made sense, in the case of Airbnb (and other urban vacation rentals) this has become a very bitter “told you so”.

At Hotelschool The Hague, a small but internationally top ranking single-discipline university, the research team acts as an antenna for new insights and developments, but it also seeks to inform alumni and professionals about new trends and innovations. We seek to jump on emerging new trends before they get big, and in 2015 we invited a mixed group of researchers and practitioners to discuss something cool: the Airbnb trend, its appeal to travellers, and its future evolution. This seems not too long ago, but remember the context: urban tourism was still hardly controversial, a millennial generation was said to have adopted an anti-consumerist attitude to possessions and Amsterdam had declared itself a “sharing city”.

However, in the course of this first research the social climate started changing. The development of Airbnb in New York had already got out of hand, as had been demonstrated by the data and analyses of Murray Cox; our data showed that also in Amsterdam, rather than a utopian movement, we saw the beginning of a similar commercial development. When we published our numbers, which showed an explosive growth during that year, we were immediately accused of being secret agents of a hotel lobby that wanted to destroy the sharing movement. We made predictions about the future development or Airbnb that almost seemed bizarre back then but that nevertheless have become reality.

Closely linked to these developments was the growth of city tourism during that same period. All of a sudden, city residents all over Europe started hating tourists (from September to May, that is, when we are not travelling ourselves). City authorities started looking for a brake to at least slow down growth; but there was none. Airbnb and the platforms cannot be blamed for this growth. But they are responsible for making the situation unmanageable for cities.

In this book, I have tried to summarize the information we have so far, combining an analysis of the numbers with insights on the nature of ‘Sharing’, such as the concept of ‘cult marketing’, which for me has become crucial to understand the phenomenon, and which also directly explains so many of the misinterpretations and the deceitful claims that surround it. I have looked at the users or ‘guests’, at the Airbnb operators or ‘hosts’, at the impact on hotels and on cities. The book gives new scenarios for the development of Airbnb and other urban vacation rentals towards 2025. Let’s just hope that this time we are not heading towards a new “I told you so”.

Finally, I have tried to give an interpretation of this trend — along with that of Uber, task platforms etcetera— as a societal development. Can we find a reason why all this apparent idealism turns out to be something completely different? What drives these changes and what is their future outlook? Has the ‘sharing’ movement been taken over by greedy impostors, or has its current manifestation always been a part of their way of thinking?

I am also eager to see the rest of the books in The Future of Tourism series. Without any doubt they will help spur debate on what we can expect from tourism, and maybe on wider societal trends. Fortunately, I understand that some other authors are more optimistic than I am.

Jeroen Oskam

 

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Reinventing the Local in Tourism edited by Antonio Paolo Russo and Greg Richards.

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