Although Airbnb is the one of the most visible examples of the access economy, it’s easy to forget how much impact this global business has on local economies. At Sustainable Brands 2012, Christopher Lukesic talked about Airbnb’s love for the individual, community and face-to-face relationships. For a company that provides booking services for unique spaces, that fits. Lukesic explained, “It’s not about companies and it’s not about brands – it’s about people.”
When Airbnb’s founders came up with the money-making idea of sharing space in August 2008, they didn’t realize that they would be building a global community, one dwelling at a time. An early investor, Paul Graham, advised them to get out of their chairs and “go and get to know your users. You can’t do that sitting here.” Little did they realize how important that would become to their venture going forward.
Currently, Airbnb has listings in 19,000 cities in 192 countries, and they have opened 11 new offices worldwide in the past six months. Simple expansion? Lukesic says no.
“As a company we learned very early on that what makes collaborative consumption work, is trust. To meet people in person, get to know them. We opened those offices, not for marketing, not to grow the market that we already have in those cities – we actually opened them to better serve the existing hosts and travelers we have in those cities. The more trust we can build, the better our platform and the better our marketplace will work.”
Lukesic talked about the personal letters the company gets from hosts talking about the difference hosting has made in their lives. Some hosts are using the money to save their home from foreclosure, to pay for cancer treatments, to quit their corporate job to pursue their passion for music, painting or design, and to retire early.
Unlike other global companies, much of the money from Airbnb transactions goes directly into local economies. Money paid to the hosts goes into the community, and travelers spend money at local establishments as they explore. “Community and collaborative consumption go hand-in-hand,” Lukesic said. “We are constantly working with cities around the world and our hosts to find ways to better the cities they live in and the communities they’re sharing with the travelers that come to visit.”
Airbnb does something else that not many companies can claim to do: bring different people physically together, and foster the opportunity for them to really get to know each other. In a time where there is such divisiveness in our society, we need to encourage more face-to-face relationships in the hopes of developing tolerance, and even promoting friendship.
“When someone steps foot in your door, or you step foot in someone else’s door, something powerful is happening – we are breaking down cultural barriers and connecting people in a real way.” Christopher Lukesic
Perhaps that’s the real legacy of a sharing economy – healing our society, one shared dwelling and face-to-face relationship at a time.
image: courtesy Airbnb