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How Airbnb is beating a path to a sustainable recovery for Hosts and communities alike

Airbnb has provided a major economic boost to local communities across the UK


6 min read Partner content

After so much of the travel industry was decimated by the pandemic, Airbnb is looking to the future – and it has a plan of action to help ensure tourism benefits local communities up and down the UK.

Newquay Harbour is famous throughout Cornwall and beyond for its rich history and picturesque views out to sea. It’s here that fishermen have come to shore with their daily catch for centuries – and today they supply some of the country’s best seafood restaurants, dotted around the harbour itself. It’s also where Katy Davidson meets her Airbnb Experience guests, bringing them down to the harbour to collect the freshest fish and then showing them how to prepare the catch to eat, teaching them all the skills they need to confidently tackle the often-intimidating prospect of shell-on crab, lobster and other shellfish.

“Meeting the fisherman down at the harbour is incredible, because it connects people to the local fishing industry,” Katy explains. “You get your seafood fresher than anywhere else you could get it and then we walk up to the house and I teach them all about how to handle it and how to make the most out of it, then they sit down to eat and drink and have a real laugh while they're learning.”

Katy is a local seafood expert and loves sharing her knowledge with visitors to Newquay. She also runs an oyster masterclass through Airbnb Experiences and has been a private room Host for four years, sharing two rooms in the family home since 2017.

“It’s like travelling without going anywhere,” she says. “You get to meet so many people through Airbnb. I’ve made friends with the people staying in my house and coming on my Airbnb Experiences and we’ve stayed in touch. I’ve even gone and stayed in their houses when I’ve travelled to where they live. I’ve been invited to Canada, America and all over the world.”

But it’s about more than just the friendships for Katy. Her Airbnb Experiences and hosting have enabled her to make enough money to sustain what she calls “almost a full-time career” and she’s now been approved for a mortgage of her own so that she can buy property in Newquay herself. 

“I also feel like what I do through Airbnb makes a really positive contribution locally,” she adds. “I have maps of local small businesses and I direct my guests to all of those – and also my Experiences support the local fishing industry. What I love is that these people who wouldn’t necessarily buy seafood before will now buy it for themselves because they know what to do with it. It’s good for the environment because it’s local food and it’s sustainable food, as well – oysters in particular are incredibly sustainable.”

Sustainable tourism is at the heart of Airbnb’s business purpose as it looks to support the travel industry in its post-pandemic recovery. In April this year, just as the industry reawakened following the winter lockdown, the company set out its commitments to communities across the UK – including Cornwall – with a view to promoting more responsible tourism with benefits extending to as many people in as many areas as possible. 

Tackling noise and nuisance is a key part of this strategy, and Airbnb recently announced a series of commitments dedicated to being a good partner to local communities. Based on a pilot restriction to crackdown on antisocial behaviour, the company has removed so-called “party houses”, banned large gatherings and reviewed potentially high-risk reservations.

Its City Portal is currently being piloted in destinations across the UK, allowing local governments, politicians and tourism organisations not just to find the data that helps them gain insight into local travel trends, but to speak one-on-one to Airbnb support staff and deal with incidents through Airbnb’s Neighbour Support Line and Law Enforcement team. 

Sustainable tourism is at the heart of Airbnb’s business purpose as it looks to support the travel industry in its post-pandemic recovery.

Innovation of this kind is second-nature to Airbnb, which wants to harness technology to drive more responsible tourism across the UK and around the world. It believes that the rise of remote work and hybrid working models will lead to more people wanting to house-share and work from different cities or countries as they embrace increased flexibility around having to attend the office.

The company has also led calls for an online registration system, which it says would help local authorities regulate home-sharing. Its experts recently led a consultation with policymakers and communities across the UK and its proposals for a host registration system are being taken forward as part of the UK Government’s pivotal Tourism Recovery Plan. Under the proposed system, hosts would be required to obtain a registration number in order to offer their property as a short-term let, including listing on platforms like Airbnb. The system would give local authorities better visibility over the scope of home-sharing activity in their area and enable them to make better-informed decisions about issues such as housing.

Addressing local housing concerns is also a key priority for Airbnb, which is calling for new planning guidance that distinguishes between commercial and non-commercial or amateur short-term let activity. The company believes this would enable local authorities to exercise their existing powers to grant permission or restrict activity in a more transparent and consistent way. 

This notion is driven by Airbnb’s determination that everyone should benefit from tourism – and this extends to the economic benefits, which are felt not just by Hosts, but by the wider communities they live in, too. A recent study by Oxford Economics ​​estimated that Airbnb contributed £45.6 million to the economy of Cornwall in 2019* alone and accounted for 9.1% of total tourism there in the same period. Meanwhile the same study found that in London, travel on Airbnb contributed £1.2 billion to the economy, supporting 22,670 jobs, accounting for 10% of tourism in the capital. It’s estimated that the average UK Host pocketed nearly £1,000 through Airbnb bookings last summer.

One Host in London who has been benefiting from the additional income stream provided by Airbnb is Shanika Gunasinghe, an NHS doctor who lives in Bow. She has been sharing a private room in her flat for around five years and the money she earns has helped her pay bills, go on extra holidays and put more into savings. But just like Katy, she believes the benefits of hosting on Airbnb go well beyond the monetary perks. 

“It’s great meeting a broad set of people. Because where I live isn’t that touristy, people come here for different reasons. I get foreign tourists who are perhaps looking for a slightly cheaper place to stay in London, British and international visitors coming down to London for work and even school students. It’s a real mix, which I love.

“People ask me for recommendations in the local area and I’ll send them to the canal, little coffee shops, bars and to Brick Lane. I often host people who are looking for a slightly different experience of London, so they’re keen to explore the area and support the local economy.”

*Analysis conducted by Oxford Economics on behalf of Airbnb

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