Airbnb hosts lament booking site’s increasing commercialisation

New Zealand: Airbnb hosts are getting frustrated at how they perceive the vacation ental platform is becoming increasingly commercialised.

The booking site has expanded its accommodation range in recent years to list more hotels, motels, eco-lodges and backpacker hotels in addition to its traditional offerings.

Airbnb’s Australia and New Zealand country manager Sam McDonagh said around 20 per cent of New Zealand’s 40,000 Airbnb listings were commercial accommodation providers, i.e. managed properties where the tenants live off-site.

The website introduced four new categories in February, including B&Bs and boutique hotels, to make it easier for customers who wanted to select more traditional-style accommodation.

Since 2017, the number of B&B rooms listed on Airbnb worldwide has doubled to over 180,000 and there are now more than 24,000 boutique hotel rooms.

McDonagh said Airbnb carefully selects which commercial operators it accepts.

He said: “One of the main ingredients is a one to one hospitality experience where there’s a host involved, and we’re looking for properties that are unique in the art work, the furniture or the design.

We want Airbnb to be for everyone, we don’t want people saying ‘I’m not going to use Airbnb because I can’t find what I’m looking for,” he added.

Airbnb hosts are split on the change, including David Simmons and Leita Vanstone, who have hosted close to 400 visitors in Christchurch in the past three and a half years.

Simmons said they were among a growing number of hosts concerned that Airbnb was diverging too much from its original model.

“The tag of ‘stay like a local’ is being eroded with Airbnb’s constant drift into being a simple online booking agency,” he said.

Queenstown host Mary Christensen has written a how-to book for would-be Airbnb hosts and she is more pragmatic about competing with commercial operators.

“Airbnb is putting a foot in both camps, and as things change and hotel models change, they are in that market,” she said.

Christensen and her husband even attracted a Disney executive to stay at their home instead of in a top hotel.

“She said I like the atmosphere, I love staying in a home alongside a local. This is someone who could afford anything,” she added.

Glenorchy Peaks Bed and Breakfast near Queenstown has advertised on Airbnb since it opened four years ago and its owner, Kelly Baker, said that most commercial accommodation providers in Glenorchy are now on Airbnb.

Baker said: “I don’t believe that this branching out into the more commercial sector will impact too much on the hosts that Airbnb has supported since they started up.

“People who want this unique experience won’t book a boutique hotel or B&B on Airbnb over the homestay or funky batches that New Zealand is so well known for,” she added.

Hospitality NZ accommodation spokesman Nigel Humphries said most commercial operators paid 15 per cent commission to online travel agents, so the significantly lower Airbnb charges were a major benefit.

He admitted however that Airbnb had ‘probably evolved in recent years into more of a place to sleep’ and more and more travellers were having no interaction with the Airbnb hosts.