Dr.Gerstenfeld’s article on how to fight Airbnb was first published in the Jerusalem Post and republished here with the author’s consent.
IMPERATIVE: TEACHING AIRBNB A HARD LESSON
The Israeli government and many of its supporters abroad understand that Airbnb has to be taught a hard lesson. Under pressure from heavily funded anti-Israel boycotters, the company eliminated rentals in the West Bank from its portfolio.1 In a case like this Israel and its friends first have to decide how to act in a way that hurts Airbnb most painfully and effectively at a minimal cost to themselves.
Instead of a decision of priorities and rapid effective action, there was a cacophony of reactions. Minister Gilad Erdan said that Airbnb lists rentals in countries that are dictatorships.2 The company’s sitemap confirms this and also shows that it operates in a number of countries which do not admit Israelis.3 Minister Ayelet Shaked stated that Israel might sue Airbnb.4 This may be possible but will certainly take a long time. Tourism Minister Yariv Levin said that Israel would impose restrictions on Airbnb’s operations in Israel, the nature of which he did not specify. He added that the government would encourage hosts in West Bank settlements to sue the company and make it “pay” for its decision. 5
The Simon Wiesenthal Center came out in a favor of a boycott of the company saying: “We take note that Airbnb has no problem doing business in the territory of the Palestinian Authority, which names schools and shopping centers in honor of mass murderers who have killed innocent civilians and have a ‘pay to slay’ policy when it comes to killing Jews.”
On social media many others called for boycotting Airbnb.
An analysis of Airbnb’s international business shows that the company has created many opponents and enemies. Hotel associations and hotels have lost business as a result of Airbnb rentals. Housing shortages have been aggravated in a variety of towns resulting in increasing real estate prices. Long term renters have been given notice because apartment owners make more money from short term rentals. Neighborhoods have been swamped by tourists and are changing in nature. In some parts of town criminality has increased. Many neighbors of apartment owners who use Airbnb for short-term rentals are extremely displeased that short term renters receive entrance keys to their buildings. Some of those renting behave badly. The authorities realize also that many of those renting out evade taxes by not reporting the rental income.
New York is Airbnb’s second largest market. It is one of several American towns where measures against Airbnb and other short term rental companies have been put in place. The hotel workers union commissioned a report from the School of Urban Planning at McGill University. The study found that nearly half of the New York City rental revenue on Airbnb was earned by 10 percent of the hosts in the city. Thus only few people substantially benefit from the short term rental business. Earlier this year a report from the New York City comptroller’s office found that Airbnb was exacerbating the city’s affordable housing crisis in various parts of the city.6
In San Francisco thousands of hosts stopped renting out apartments after new rental registration laws took effect.7 At the end of last year, Seattle requested hosts to obtain city licenses and forbade the rental of more than two units per host.8 This month the Washington City Council voted unanimously to impose tight limits on short term rental companies.9 Other U.S. cities and Vancouver in Canada have also taken measures to reduce short term rentals.10 Yet others are considering such steps.
In Europe, various cities have taken measures which hurt Airbnb and other short term rental companies. Barcelona requires apartment owners who rent out for short times to register and Airbnb to provide information on all hosts. If it does not comply the company will be fined 600 000 Euro. In Paris, Airbnb’s largest market in the world, heavy fines will be imposed on companies who operate home rentals without a government license. In addition, those who operate rentals for more than 120 days per year will be heavily penalized.11 In London the rental limit is 90 days per year. A major Spanish tourist destination, Palma de Majorca, forbids short term rentals altogether.12
In the Netherlands, Airbnb has suffered huge negative media publicity. Leading comedian Arjen Lubach – also internationally successful – devoted one of his much watched TV programs to criticizing Airbnb’s mode of operations.13 He showed clips of the company’s founder and ridiculed his hypocrisy. Lubach shared clips of people complaining about drunk Airbnb customers who lost their key and slept in the building’s public space and others who vomited and urinated in hallways. On January 1, 2019, the limit for short term rentals in Amsterdam will be halved from sixty days per year to thirty.14
There have also been reports in Israel that while tourists enjoy bargain rates, local residents suffer from noise, traffic and a lack of available rentals as well as guests who disturb the neighborhood with wild partying, drinking and drug use.15
While planning to act against Airbnb, the Israeli government should take into account that it is dealing with a company which is under attack in many places in the world. In the meantime, Israel’s friends all over the world can help by promoting limitations on Airbnb with the local councils in the places they live. The municipal council of Beverly Hills was the first to decide that Airbnb was no longer welcome because of its anti-Israeli decision.16
It is crucial that Airbnb will suffer lasting damage even if they annul their decision. The campaign against Airbnb will then have a multiplier effect and other companies will think twice before considering similar boycotts. The Airbnb affair once again stresses that the establishment of an Israeli anti-propaganda agency is long overdue.