Airbnb Builds Community, Not a Brand

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

Andrea Newell has more than ten years of experience designing, developing and writing ERP e-learning materials for large corporations in several industries. She was a consultant for PricewaterhouseCoopers and a contract consultant for companies like IBM, BP, Marathon Oil, Pfizer, and Steelcase, among others. She is a writer and former editor at TriplePundit and a social media blog fellow at The Story of Stuff Project. She has contributed to In Good Company (Vault's CSR blog), Evolved Employer, The Glass Hammer, EcoLocalizer and CSRwire. She is a volunteer at the West Michigan Environmental Action Council and lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan. You can reach her at and @anewell3p on Twitter.

5 responses

  1. Airbnb likes to talk about trust but the fact is, you can not trust Airbnb.  They do not have the backs of their hosts who are the backbone of the whole business.  The only thing the “Airbnb Host Guarantee” actually guarantees is that if something bad happens at a host’s home, they guarantee they make sure they are not libel. 

  2. Sounds nice unil your home is robbed and then you realize the trust airbnb wants you to have in your guests, they themselves dont deserve. Reach us on twitter @airbnbhostcrime

  3. I’ve been doing Airbnb for almost 2 years and I never had a bad experience. I seem to be one of the lucky few. I’ve had all great guests and I got along with them all. I have SuperHost status. Airbnb kept me financially stable as well as having nice company.

  4. Great stuff. I’ve been using Airbnb for 6 years and have never had a bad experience either traveling or hosting. Most of the horror stories are one offs or people with a chip on their shoulder for one reason or another.

    That said, I do think the community aspect isn’t what it used to be, at least in major destinations like ny and SF. There are far too many full time professional units for rent in these cities which are not really shared homes at all. I don’t buy the hype that Airbnb is the cause of high rents – it’s a very minor part of that – but it’s efibitelg problematic from a community standpoint to have full time Airbnb homes all over the neighborhoods.

    All in all though, I think Airbnb is wonderful and the vitriolic babbling that some people can’t get enough of needs to stop just as much as the full time units in cities do.

  5. I’ve also done Airbnb as a guest, and it is a great experience just like hosting. Not only does it save me money but I also get some culture, experiencing the way locals live.

    With hosting, when I cannot go out and see the world, Airbnb brings the world to me.

    I am also against those who buy homes and do not live in them, for the sole purpose of renting out on Airbnb or other short-term rentals. That is also what most townships are cracking down on (including my community). If it’s a primary residence, then there’s nothing wrong. Airbnb is about home-SHARING…those who list unoccupied homes are taking away the sharing aspect.

    in a primary residence, the house is still being used what it is zoned for – permanent residency. Some people complain about the “many different strangers” coming and going, they say this house is “operating as a hotel or bed&breakfast, it will drive down property values, etc”. I don’t buy any of that. If the host lives in the house, and the guests share the house, then it is still being used as a residence. There are bigger things that drive down property values more than occasional house-sharing guests – such as the high number of foreclosures, crime and mischief, and poorly maintained properties.

    If the guests do not bother anyone and never cause harm, then it’s none of the neighbors’ business.

    Unless the township is going to pay my mortgage, property taxes, etc, then who are they to tell me how I can use my property or who can live with me?

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