Airbnb invites four people to Italy for regeneration project

Italy: Airbnb is inviting four people to spend three months in the Italian town of Grottole with free housing and living expenses covered up to $1,000 per month.

Across Italy, small mountain villages are being abandoned by younger generations as rural communities offer little in terms of professional opportunity, leaving homes empty and giving way to the rise of the albergo diffuso – literally “scattered hotel”- in which tourists pay to bunk in an unoccupied home and become part of a village community. It is an anti-resort approach in an attempt to preserve local cultures.

Now, Airbnb is getting involved. It originally partnered with the Italian city of Civita in 2016, and now is partnering with Grottole (via non-profit Wonder Grottole) to help revitalise the town.

Airbnb Italy PR manager Federica Calcaterra said: “We will find every way possible to support sustainable tourism, and give visibility to these rural areas.”

Grottole has a population of only 300, and 600 houses left vacant, and its mayor was looking for a way to preserve its historic district.

Calcaterra said: “When we met it was really a perfect match – they were looking, not for tourists, but people to enjoy and be part of the community.”

The agreement with Grottole will see Airbnb provide funding for the town to buy three buildings to convert them into a new community centre, owned by the city. It will also fund the sabbatical and housing for four people who will take part in Airbnb Experiences educational classes and events which will generate press coverage to encourage future tourism to the area.

One of the founders of Wonder Grottole, Silvio Donadio, said: “Our dream is to repopulate the historical centre. In ten years we’d like to see the village full of people from different cultures perfectly integrated with the local community.”

Airbnb has started investing in revitalising small towns and cities around the world in the past few years.

Its biggest initiative to date was in building the Yoshino Cedar House, a community centre and dwelling for the Yoshino District of Japan, which boosted the local economy and invited tourists to stay and pay to try experiences like making soba with locals.

For tourists, this may offer an insight into the future of travel. It will be the chance to stay in a remote, highly Instagrammable village, to meet its people, eat its food, experience its culture, and book it all through the Airbnb platform.

Airbnb seems to be using these projects as a test-bed, to assess how much revenue can be generated by albergo diffuso vacations and the potential of fresh capital for threatened remote communities.

However, the Grottole partnership is part of a larger collaboration between Airbnb and the Basilicata region of southern Italy, where Grottole is situated. In June 2018, Airbnb announced the southern region of Italy won the Airbnb Community Tourism Programme, in an effort to support sustainable tourism.

Airbnb said in a statement: “At Airbnb, we believe that when travel is unique, authentic and local, everyone benefits. We know some of the best experiences are found beyond tourist hotspots — in the communities local residents call home.”

Airbnb has in recent times faced criticism that its popularity is devaluing the authenticity of travel destinations and pricing out local people from their homes.

Sabbatical participants will not receive a salary and proceeds from the events they lead will be reinvested into Wonder Grottole.

The sabbatical runs from June to August 2019, with the winners being announced on 29 March.

For rules, restrictions and the application, visit www.italiansabbatical.com and apply by 17 February.