Last updated on May 16th, 2024 at 09:04 am

In a post-COVID-19 world experiencing a tourism explosion, some travellers swear by the benefits of using Airbnb while others are deeply concerned about the inevitable Airbnb ethical issues. In this debate, we side with the latter.

As fervent advocates of sustainable travel, we often find ourselves pondering the impact of Airbnb in modern societies and how the Airbnb effect has altered the lives of locals worldwide. In this article, we’ll try to explore the various Airbnb ethical issues and how we can minimise the negative impacts of Airbnb.

What we won’t be doing in this article is to analyse the various issues faced by Airbnb guests. That would be an entirely different article which we don’t have enough experience to write as we’ve only used Airbnb once in the many years we’ve been roaming around Europe and the rest of the world. What you’re about to read focuses strictly on Airbnb ethics and nothing but.

This image shows a super crowded Plaza Mayor in Madrid. It's an overcast winter day and the grey sky comes in sharp contrast with the iconic red buildings surrounding the square.
After the COVID-19 pandemic, people started travelling even more than before as this photo of a crowded Madrid in early December 2022 shows

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A Brief History of Airbnb & The Birth of The Airbnb Effect

The negative impact of Airbnb is becoming more and more evident. Yet, Airbnb hasn’t always been bad. Founded in – the now distant – 2008, Airbnb was introduced as a way to help hosts earn a bit of extra income by renting their spare rooms to – mostly – young travellers who wouldn’t be able to afford to stay at hotels during their trips. It sounds like a win-win, right?

However, this quickly changed and this is how the Airbnb effect emerged. In just a matter of years, Airbnb became a multi-billion company that spread havoc to local communities in several ways that we’re going to explain later. And, although Airbnb has always been promoted as the best way to travel like a local, it has in essence ruined the lives of locals around the globe.

Is Airbnb Ethical Nowadays?

The short answer is no. But why is Airbnb unethical nowadays? First of all, the online booking platform has diverted enormously from its initial goals. Currently, the vast majority of hosts are no longer next-door locals who want to meet people from all over the world while earning a bit of extra money by renting out their spare rooms.

Nowadays, most properties listed on Airbnb are owned or managed by profit-oriented property management businesses. The latter run entire blocks of holiday rentals, stripping Airbnb of its live-like-a-local narrative in the most eloquent way.

How are travellers supposed to live like locals if they don’t get to meet a single local in the first place? When renting an Airbnb today, chances are you won’t be greeted by a human at all but by a small key-safe box. Not only is Airbnb unethical. It’s also the epitome of impersonality.

Moreover, there are some serious Airbnb ethical issues affecting the lives of locals and the survival of small family-run businesses in destinations where Airbnb has exploded. But let’s have a look at those in more detail.

Three safe key boxes at the entrance of a block of flats.
Hello, we’re your hosts in Athens

The Main Airbnb Ethical Issues

Airbnb Destroys Local Housing Markets

The immense success of Airbnb is causing serious housing problems for locals who need to live in cities like Barcelona, Athens, Paris, Rome and pretty much every big city in the world. That’s because most landlords no longer offer their properties as permanent residences for locals but decide to turn them into Airbnb rentals instead. The reason is that they’re making more profit this way.

As a result, locals around the world have a hard time finding decent places to rent. If and when they do, they’re faced with the challenge of being able to pay impossibly high rents. The Airbnb effect has gradually led to a universal increase in rent prices due to the fact that there are now only a few properties available for locals to rent as their permanent residences.

The same goes for sell prices. Apartments for sale are advertised for their short-term rental potential, causing prices to go up often overnight. If you’d like to read more on this, check out this article.

Bars and cafes on Placa del Sol in Gracia.
Barcelona is one of the cities that the Airbnb negative impact has affected the most

Airbnb Turns Villages Into Ghost Towns in The Off-Season

If that’s the cruel reality for today’s cities, rural areas have similar problems with Airbnb. Landlords in villages, islands and other rural areas turn their properties into short-term rentals that prove to be goldmines during the high and peak seasons.

However, to be able to do that, they condemn these rural areas into absolute neglect during the off-season as locals are practically banned from staying at those places if they can’t rent an apartment or home there.

Another housing problem that touches upon the issue of Airbnb ethics has to do with people whose seasonal employment in small towns and villages forces them into a state of recurring homelessness.

For instance, teachers in Greece who are hired at state schools in small villages or islands that attract hordes of tourists in the summer – like Santorini – may be able to rent an apartment for the school term (September to June).

Yet, they are kicked out of their accommodation in July and August when landlords want to rent those same properties as holiday rentals, making ten times the money they would make from the now homeless teacher. Read more on our guide about responsible travel in Greece.

This image shows the whitewashed village of Pyrgos in Santorini under an overcast sky. The village looks empty. In the foreground, a blue table with two blue chairs.
Even the villages in super touristy Santorini look like ghost towns in the winter

Airbnb Damages Local Communities

Due to the Airbnb effect, entire cities or villages transform into summer or winter wonderlands for tourists, deprived of all those elements that make them unique and authentic. With locals being forced to turn their backs on their hometowns, unable to keep up with the constant increases in rent prices, neighbourhoods lose their local character and sense of community.

Furthermore, Airbnb affects the locals’ quality of life. Before the Airbnb effect, locals would live next door with other permanent residences. However, nowadays, it’s no big surprise if the apartment next door suddenly turns into a party – and drinking – den.

This image shows the panoramic view of the city while leaving Prague Castle.
Within the walls of Prague’s beautiful buildings, there are more party dens than the locals can handle

Airbnb Harms Local Economies

Kicking out local residents from their neighbourhoods and welcoming travellers willing to spend a good deal of their salaries during their vacation can only mean one thing. Not only do house rent prices go up but everything else becomes more expensive as well.

For instance, small family-run businesses can no longer pay the unbearably high rents to keep their stores. They soon go out of business and small shops that used to sell everything from hairpins and screws to fabrics and spices disappear only to be replaced by fancy restaurants and bars addressed to tourists.

Oftentimes, these new establishments are branches of multinational chain brands. How can local economies recover from this? Moreover, in some cities, Airbnb is notorious when it comes to tax evasion, which is yet another blow to the local economies.

This image shows rolls of colourful fabrics leaning against an old store window. Above them, there's a sign that reads ΜΕΤΑΞΙΑ, the Greek word for silk. The Commercial Triangle of Athens had a lot of these stores in the past that have now gone out of business, partly because of the Airbnb effect. Ruining small businesses is one of the main Airbnb ethical issues.
The Commercial Triangle of Athens used to be filled with small stores selling fabrics. Nowadays, only a handful survive. Most of them have gone out of business and they’re replaced by trendy bars and restaurants catering to the needs of tourists.

Airbnb Is Detrimental To The Hotel Industry

Last but not least, the negative impact of Airbnb on the hotel industry is not to be overlooked. Before we go into more detail, let’s get one thing clear. We’re talking about the problems that small family-run hotels are facing here. These are the ones that suffer from the consequences of the Airbnb effect.

Chain hotels are not that affected as they mostly rely on business travellers or package holiday clients who would never book Airbnb rentals anyway.

Family-run boutique hotels and small guesthouses or Bed & Breakfasts have to live with the negative impact of Airbnb because they pretty much target the same clients as Airbnb. However, contrary to Airbnb which messes up local communities in more ways than one, small hotels are the pillars of local communities as they help regulate tourism and they open job posts for locals.

This is a close-up of the bed in one of the themed rooms of Hotel Beethoven Wien. One of the main Airbnb ethical issues is that family-run hotels are threatened to go out of business.
We absolutely love the themed Hotel Beethoven, a family-run boutique hotel in the heart of Vienna

Why We Don’t Use Airbnb

As mentioned at the very beginning of this article, we’ve only used Airbnb once. That says a lot considering that we’ve been travelling extensively in Greece and abroad since 2009. At first, the reason why we didn’t choose Airbnb properties had to do with our experience as guests. We’ve always been the boutique hotel type of travellers.

Then, all those Airbnb ethical issues started emerging and we became more sceptical for yet another reason. We wanted to travel abroad to get to know new cultures and people rather than the tourist wonderlands that Airbnb helps create globally.

The final blow was when the negative impact of Airbnb directly affected our lives. We were literally ousted from our hometown Athens, unable to find a decent place to rent as a permanent home and absolutely disappointed by the unethical approach of every single landlord we had to deal with recently.

This is why you won’t find any Airbnb recommendations on this website.

This image shows Maria and Katerina at Pnyx Hill and the Acropolis in the background.
A few years back, oblivious that one day we’d be pretty much kicked out of our home city

Airbnb Alternatives

We understand that for many of you reading this article, Airbnb is your go-to platform when booking your accommodation. However, choosing wisely your accommodation is one of the best ways to be a responsible traveller. There are several alternatives for all types of travellers and trips.

Here’s a list of the most common ethical alternatives to Airbnb:

  • Boutique hotels and B&Bs: Small family-run hotels and B&Bs are ideal for short trips. If you’re travelling for two to four days, it’s doubtful that you’ll need the conveniences of a full kitchen and other similar amenities that an Airbnb property can offer you. Moreover, boutique hotels often treat guests to a more immersive experience, a look into the local culture and way of life.
  • Aparthotels: If you’re travelling for a week or two, it makes sense to choose a fully equipped apartment over a hotel room. Yet, instead of renting a random Airbnb property, you can opt for an apartment at an aparthotel. This type of accommodation is ideal for anyone wishing to benefit from the comforts of an entire apartment. However, contrary to Airbnb, aparthotels have many similarities with regular hotels in the sense that they employ locals, pay their taxes and overall benefit the local economies and communities. Don’t forget to try and pick a family-run aparthotel instead of one belonging to an international hotel chain.
  • Co-living spaces: If there’s one positive thing that came out of all the COVID-19 pandemic madness is that people embraced remote work like never before. This is a positive outcome in so many ways. Especially because people can live wherever they want while keeping their jobs. Co-living spaces are ideal for remote professionals who want to get a taste of nomadic life. This accommodation type offers rooms in shared apartments or fully furnished studios. No matter which room type you choose, a co-living complex always features common spaces where you can work, socialise and meet like-minded people from all over the world. No Airbnb listings can beat that. Although not all cities have a good co-living place yet, this trend is here to stay. We won’t be surprised if co-livings pop up everywhere soon.
  • Hostels: For budget travellers who don’t mind sharing a bathroom and a bedroom, hostels are the best option. Even though hostels aren’t as affordable as they used to be, they are still more reasonably priced than Airbnb. Most importantly, they remain the best accommodation type for backpackers across the world. Hostels are not our thing at all but we do appreciate the communities of like-minded people they built.
This image shows a hotel room at Ale & Niki's Home in Rome. It's a classic-style bedroom with a standing mirror and a painting over the bed.
Ale & Niki’s Home is one of our favourite family-run boutique hotels in Rome

Should Airbnb Disappear Altogether?

We’re not saying that Airbnb should vanish from the face of the earth. What we’re saying is that it should be regulated by governments worldwide.

Apart from making sure that each Airbnb listing has all necessary licenses and pays its taxes, a good start on behalf of governments would be to set a minimum number of nights that someone could stay at an Airbnb.

For example, if all Airbnb properties were available for stays of 30 nights or more, they would cater to the needs of digital nomads who stay longer in the destinations they’re visiting, thus contributing to the local economies and becoming part of the local communities.

If there was a 30-night minimum stay rule, casual travellers would go back to booking rooms in hotels or B&Bs for their trips. Since digital nomads are far fewer than casual travellers, the prospect of listing a property on Airbnb would be less appealing to landlords in the end. Therefore, more houses would be again available to locals looking for permanent residence.

How To Minimise The Negative Impact of Airbnb

We don’t think that anyone can doubt the negative impacts of Airbnb. But trying to minimise the problems that arise is not an easy task.

On a personal level, we as travellers can start by opting for any of the Airbnb alternatives listed above instead of renting an Airbnb property. On the rare occasion that there’s no other alternative, we should at least look for an Airbnb that is run by a private host rather than a big property management business. There are ways to tell them apart as long as we keep our eyes wide open.

Yet, there’s only so much we travellers can do. As mentioned above, it’s the governments’ responsibility to regulate the current Airbnb situation and its devastating effects. Although some cities – like Berlin – have indeed passed laws against short-term rentals, more destinations should follow suit.

In fact, all nations should come together to work jointly against the derooting of local communities by Airbnb, to protect and safeguard the locals’ right to reclaim their homes and neighbourhoods.

Unfortunately, this sounds as utopian as it is. Because governments around the world – the Greek government included – tend to pass laws that serve their interests rather than look out for the common good.

Does this mean that there’s no hope then? No, far from that. As long as we’re active citizens that stay informed and use the power of our vote to change what’s not working, local communities will thrive again and all Airbnb ethical issues will eventually be a thing of the past.

This image shows men sitting and chatting on plastic chairs and tables on one of the main pedestrianised streets in Bari Vecchia. This isn't at all uncommon and it adds to Bari's overall charm.
Nothing beats experiencing a city the way locals do – this is Bari a few years back

IMAGES: Katerina

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