Airbnb income helps spread wealth and boost local economies

Hosts use rental cash to make home payments and pay down debts, while tourist money is distributed more widely, research shows

Spare-room rental site Airbnb is bringing tourists – and their money – into communities they might previously have overlooked, while also providing a much-needed financial boost for low-income hosts, according to a new study by the company.

The independently verified study, covering the activity of more than 3,000 people who used Airbnb for accommodation and nearly 1,000 hosts, found that 72% of London guests stayed outside the city’s main hotel neighbourhoods.

The study also found that 44% of Airbnb hosts said guests’ payments helped them afford to stay in their home, and that 31% used the payments to pay off debt.

The company, which is keen to take on more London hosts, said that it is also helping people to pursue “non-traditional work,” with 42% of hosts using their Airbnb income to support them in freelance, part-time and self-employed work.

From November 2012 to October 2013, the period the study covered, the typical host made £2,822 renting out their room for a total of 33 nights. Nearly a quarter of hosts earned less than £15,000 in their main jobs.

Airbnb has recently come under criticism from some hotel groups and regional authorities, which have called for more regulation of online businesses, but the company’s report stressed the social benefits of its model.

One host quoted in the report said: “Hosting on Airbnb has meant we’ve been able to maintain a mortgage, [and] afford childcare for our youngest while my partner starts a business, and has meant we’ve been able to travel ourselves far more.”

The report also found that each guest parted with an average of £570 in the local neighbourhood, staying an average of 4.6 nights, compared to 3.1 nights for the typical visitor to the UK. More than half of the guests were from North America.

Karen Rowlingson, a professor of social policy at the University of Birmingham, said that if Airbnb led people with higher income to stay with those who didn’t have a lot of money, it could be good for wealth redistribution.

“It might be a possible way for people to stay in homes and get extra income, which many are looking to do in the recession. But not everyone is going to have a spare room and it might be the wealthier who have more space,” she said.

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