Will Airbnb and the sharing economy hurt or help responsible tourism?

Will Airbnb and the sharing economy hurt or help responsible tourism?

A few years ago I visited around 200 ecolodges, homestays, community run guests houses etc around the world as part of my research for a book on the best in sustainable tourism. As a result of my experiences, I knew I would always seek out these places for my own holidays. Not just because of their ethics, but because I had a much better time. I met more inspiring people, got closer to wildlife, stayed in more remarkable places.

Over the last two months I have been exploring what has happened since then. I have stayed in a couple of inns, several caravans parks and campsites, a city centre hotel and six airbnb flats, as I have written about recently. When I first stayed in an airbnb, four years ago in New York, it was because there was no affordable hotel where I wanted to go. Such has been the development of the service – and my experiences with it – that my attitude to it has now flipped. I now look first for an airbnb, and only if I can’t find anywhere do I look for a guesthouse or lodge.

Why? So much of what inspired me about responsible tourism I get from airbnb. I stay in real places, not tourist ghettos, which connects me to food markets, independent shops and cafes the residents use. I enjoy the interactions with my hosts. But in addition, I get as much space as if I was staying in the presidential suite, but for the price of a budget room at a backpackers. And I love having a kitchen so that I can cook using local ingredients.

What concerns me, however, as someone eager to see the development of responsible tourism, is that I reckon I am fairly typical of the sort of person who seeks our responsible hotels and ecolodges. I doubt the change in my travel patterns are uncommon. So if independent travellers like me are shifting in significant numbers to staying in airbnbs, what effect does that have on responsible hotels and lodges? And how should they respond?

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