Airbnb has become of the more popular ways of travelling around Europe, offering visitors to cities and regions home-based alternatives to staying in impersonal or expensive hotels when they are away from home.
That hasn’t been without controversy, though, and so as it continues to grow — to an estimated 24 million stays by 2020 in the region — the company is embarking on something of a charm offensive. Airbnb is announcing a new fund called the Community Tourism Program — committing to give $5.6 million (€5 million) to projects in Europe that help foster local customs and traditions.
The community fund is the first of its kind for Airbnb — although it fosters local community development, this is the first time that it will back that up with funding. From what I understand, the company will be looking to see how it works before deciding how and whether to expand it to other regions. It looks like Airbnb has yet to fund any projects. It is accepting letters of interest now for a shortlist who will make longer proposals in November. The first grants will then come in 2018.
“The question is, how do you support emerging tourism,” Chris Lehane, Airbnb Global Head of Public Policy and Public Affairs, said earlier today in a call with journalists about the fund. “We have had a lot of success doing one-off projects in Europe and we want to put this in place and take it to the next level.”
Alongside that, Airbnb is announcing some milestones in how it’s contributing to the economy: specifically it’s projecting that it will contribute some €340 billion in economic output across communities in Europe by 2020 (including not just the accommodation, but the additional spending visitors will do once they are staying in an Airbnb somewhere).
It also said that some 1 million jobs will be tied to what we might call “the Airbnb economy” by that time.
Funds from the Community Tourism Program will be available to charities, non-profit agencies and community social groups “in need of financial support for innovative local projects.” This is Airbnb’s way of essentially providing a philanthropic angle to its message that it boosts the local economy.
“We want to work with communities to help boost and preserve the qualities that make them unique,” said Lehane. “Airbnb has a long history of supporting progressive local initiatives that boost communities and bring people together, and we’re excited to continue that tradition here in Europe.”
Some of the areas that Airbnb will be focusing on include “Placemaking” — essentially work focused on public spaces; innovation — new tech-based initiatives to “reinvent” tourism; and Festivals and events funding.
While Airbnb hasn’t made any contributions out of the fund yet, it says that some of the types of projects that it has supported in the past have included working with on a regeneration project for a community arts and meeting space in southeast London, and providing airbeds and sleeping bags in Berlin during the “Church Day” religious event.
Last week, Lehane spoke at the OECD Forum about how he claims that Airbnb helps bridge digital divides: “More people are staying with each other using Airbnb in Europe than anywhere else on earth,” he said. “It is a healthy and sustainable form of tourism that ensures benefits stay right here in Europe and are enjoyed by many, not kept in the hands of a few.”
Airbnb says that a typical host on its platform in Europe made €2,400 and on average rents or shares his/her space for 27 nights in 2016.
Airbnb, which is now active in 191 countries and expected by many to file for an IPO, is now worth some $31 billion after raising $3.4 billion in funding, and it says it is now profitable.