Airbnb is an online platform that allows people to rent accommodation for a short period. The platform has expanded through partnerships with car rental services, restaurants, entertainment, and travel sites, including becoming a one-stop travel site. They position themselves as an ‘online travel community that allows guests to experience exotic places. Airbnb offers a middle ground where many can enjoy a more residential lifestyle at a price much lower than hotels. Airbnb claims that this global community can be created simply by renting out rooms and houses. Hosts are not even required to greet their guests. While Airbnb has made travel more available, it has also fueled rising rents and evictions.
Ethical Dilemmas: The “Right” Decisions
From the point of view of all ethical theories (utilitarianism, deontology, theories of law, and virtue), one must carefully consider the ethical dilemmas that Airbnb solves and the dilemmas that the company does not solve. Airbnb has implemented ethical policies to address users’ concerns: comprehensive insurance policies to protect hosts, elimination of racial bias, sharing data with local governments to influence Airbnb, referring to each city individually, helping the community pay a fair share of taxes, and directing money into the pockets of residents.
Ethical Dilemmas: The “Wrong” Decisions
According to utilitarian ethical theory, the tendency of utilitarianism to disregard the rights of the individual is weakened by the diminishing marginal utility of wealth and the futility of the protest of those at a disadvantage. Dilemmas that Airbnb doesn’t solve: the company often pretends that everyone benefits from its platform. However, people who cannot find housing or cannot rent it out often suffer. Moreover, the host country periodically exhibits various types of discrimination.
Amsterdam accuses Airbnb of destroying the city, buying houses specifically for short-term rentals on the platform, thereby reducing the affordability of housing in the city. Many cities (Barcelona, New Orleans, New York, and others) believe that Airbnb is engaged in gentrification – the reconstruction of destroyed city blocks through improvement and subsequent attraction of more affluent residents, and oppose this. Another Airbnb ethical issue is that short-term rentals hurt many and benefit few, driving up prices that negatively impact locals.
The Key Stakeholders
According to ethical theory, there are four goals to succeed – mercy, the least harm, respect for autonomy, and justice. Recently, a startup called Airbnb has emerged. Its mission is to create a platform that serves the same purpose as Airbnb. This highlights the possibility of creating a marketable product whose main vision is based on social responsibility. The company will be jointly owned by users, allowing members to vote on how profits are distributed. Based on this, Fairbnb considers its company to be more ethical.
Alternative Course of Actions
Applying the ethical theory of action utilitarianism, consider what actions are performed as an alternative to Airbnb’s actions. Action utilitarianism is when a person performs actions that benefit the majority of people, regardless of personal feelings or social constraints such as laws. Sito Veracruz, a former Airbnb host who is one of the people behind the Airbnb platform, is positioning his company as a more socially responsible version of vacation rental platforms. The company undertakes to give half of its profits to local projects.
Cities are active: Amsterdam has limited hosts in the number of nights they can rent out their apartments to 30 (up from 60). In Barcelona, hosts must register in the city. In New York, renting out entire apartments for less than 30 days is illegal. From the point of view of ethical theory, this is correct since it limits the actions of the monopolist and increases the chance of making a profit for people who have only one house.
The idea of community investment is also appealing to those outside the main tourist destinations. Manuel Marquez became a Fairbnb host on his father’s farm in Ribeiradio, an inland Portuguese village that he currently rents through a website and online agencies. Marquez said, “All the development in Portugal goes to the coast and to the villages. Cities and towns within the country are losing people, investments, activity, everything” (Boztas, 2019, para. 6). He also added, “By funding local initiatives, you help and strengthen the community” (Boztas, 2019, para. 6).
Boztas, S. (2019). Airbnb is accused of destroying cities. Huffington Post.