Ten years ago ‘collaborative consumption‘ looked like a interesting new phenomenon with the potential to reduce inequality and build community. This was the umbrella term for the new ways of buying, selling and doing business that had been created by the internet. It enabled sharing and swapping and community enterprise, and there remain lots of positive examples.
Other projects that were lumped in with that movement have turned out to be less positive. At first glance Uber looked like an opportunity for ordinary car owners to earn a little on the side by sharing their time and their car. In reality it undermined local taxi networks and forced drivers into insecure and poorly paid work. Platform coops sprang up in a number of places in response.
AirBnB has been similar. For a while it looked like a dynamic community of hosts taking a share of the hospitality industry from the big hotel chains. But over time it became clear that it has benefited landlords and second home owners, many of whom aren’t local and have bought their homes as investments. This pushes up rents in destination cities – if a landlord can make more money putting an apartment on AirBnB, they will choose to do that instead of renting it to local residents. Prices go up, choice goes down, and local communities suffer. Popular destinations such as Venice or Barcelona have been forced to intervene to protect residents from the effects of AirBnB and similar services.
FairBnB is a cooperative set up to challenge that corosive effect. Participating hosts can only offer one home in a city, so wealthy owners of multiple homes can’t run their business through the system. It charges a booking fee and shares it 50/50 with community projects in the area – ensuring that the local area benefits more broadly, not just the host or the investors in the online platform. When you book your accomodation, you can choose which local project your fee will support. You might get an invitation to visit or volunteer, which helps to build bridges between visitors and locals.
The aim is to create a travel platform that is not extractive – it’s not just there to hoover money out of holiday destinations, but to invest in them and the people that live there.
FairBnB managed to launch their travel website into the teeth of a pandemic, so it’s been a slow start for them. They’ve re-launched this year and are offering accomodation in several European destinations, with many more to come, including the UK. If you’re planning to travel to Europe anytime soon, by train obviously, see if you can book with FairBnB.