Since its founding in 2008, the short-term rental platform Airbnb has given people all over the world the opportunity to “share” their living space with guests. In the meantime, the California start-up has become a globally active business. It earned 4.7 billion US dollars in revenue from short-term rentals in 2019 amidst a global housing crisis and is poised to become the main sponsor of the 2024 Olympics in Paris.
In 2020, mention of Airbnb no longer evokes romantic sleeping arrangements in Rome or “sharing is caring”, since the company has become a symbol of platform capitalism and data extractivism, law-breaking, and skyrocketing rent prices. Why have rent initiatives and internet activists made the company into a fiercely fought opponent, and why is the short-term rental platform at the centre of conversations around urban tourism in Europe?
Katalin Gennburg studied historical urban studies at TU Berlin and is the spokesperson for urban development, tourism, and smart cities for Die Linke’s parliamentary group in the Berlin House of Representatives.
Jannis Hertel studies urban sociology at TU Berlin, is active in housing policy initiatives and was a research assistant at Katalin Gennburg’s district office in Treptow-Köpenick.
Carolin Moje is a political scientist who focuses on public policy and a research assistant at Katalin Gennburg’s district office.
Denis Petri studied historical urban studies at TU Berlin and is a research assistant at Katalin Gennburg’s district office.
The conflict over Airbnb draws together several different contemporary struggles for the right to the city and for urban space. New mechanisms of profiteering and principles of economic exploitation faced particularly by people living in tourist destinations are at the heart of the fight against Airbnb. Many European cities have already announced their intent to push back against the company, and their numbers are growing. Whether in Amsterdam, Paris, Lisbon, Berlin, Prague, or Budapest—all over Europe and even the world, neighbours are fighting for their districts, mayors for the power to act locally, and renters’ initiatives against the disappearance of living space.
European city governments are now joining forces in a network of solidarity to demand help from the EU and its Commission in the fight against the exploitation of urban space. It is clear that the same people whose business model profits from the commodification of urban space are advocating for this economic exploitation. Due to its monopoly status, Airbnb is treated paradigmatically in this paper.
Airbnb is at the centre of urban struggles over space and, as an online platform, has become the epitome of a new kind of conflict over analogue urban spaces in the digital age. To show what caused this, this study first contextualizes Airbnb as part of a trend of new, digital capitalism, and then examines the situation in Berlin. This new study outlines seven different problematic aspects of the platform’s business model to show why it is important to deal with Airbnb now and illustrate what possible solutions already exist.