Why Airbnb is nothing like Uber


As Airbnb pumps bucks by the bucketful into the local media to try to convince our MPs to remove the legal right of apartment owners to keep holiday lets out of their buildings, you are going to hear it suggested time and again that Airbnb is just like Uber.

And, to be fair, in some ways the online holiday letting agency is like the ride sharing private taxi service.  However, in some of the most important regards, they could not be more different.

True, they both allow people to use an asset they own (or rent), to make money.  Also, taking paying passengers in a private car was at one point illegal.  Airbnb still is, at least in buildings that are zoned residential-only.

Airbnb – the facts and fictions behind a great little idea that became a money-making monster threatening apartment living 

They are both very popular with users and service providers alike, and they have both made their founders billions.

They have also helped to establish the notion that if enough people break the law using new technologies, and can make money from it, the government will change the law to fit. I expect online drug ‘sharing’ to be legalised any minute.

But as an article in US online magazine Politico pointed out last year, that’s where the similarities ended, certainly as far as New York was concerned.

The article asks why it was that New York city and state politicians were relatively quick to legitimise Uber but dug their heels in with Airbnb, to the point that the holiday letting giant launched a legal challenge (which it pretty soon abandoned.)

Firstly, everybody in New York complains both about how hard it is to get cabs and find cheap accommodation.  Uber helped New Yorkers with the former while Airbnb, arguably, made life harder with the latter.

Uber helps everyone get around, while Airbnb helps a relatively small number of hosts and their overseas visitors. And there’s no votes in foreign tourists.

Also, Uber submitted itself to the most stringent regulations of any city in which it operates while Airbnb decided to fight any restrictions tooth and nail.

Oh, and it helped Uber’s case that everyone hated the taxi industry monopolies.  Sound familiar?  Sydneysiders couldn’t wait to load their Uber app on to their smartphones, leading to a cut in taxi credit card and booking charges, while getting around town has become an altogether more pleasant experience.

Meanwhile a number of studies have shown that residential rents have risen two or three times faster in Sydney’s Airbnb hotspots, compared with the rest of the city.

Apart from the comparatively few people letting properties online, Sydneysiders in apartment blocks are getting nothing but trouble from holiday lets.

When it comes to the law, Uber has toed the newly drawn line and everybody is happy.  Airbnb is telling Macquarie St how it should be controlled and a lot of people are very, very annoyed.

So don’t confuse Uber and Airbnb.  That’s like confusing need with greed. And the problem is broad acceptance of apartment living as a viable lifestyle is just starting to take hold in Australia.  Turning our homes into hotels could turn on its head a mindset shift that has taken decades to evolve.

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