“Don’t become one of those girls from Taken”, Mum tutted as I pawed through endless experiences on the glittering new ‘it’ travel tourism site Airbnb.

Recently, the popular bed and breakfast booking option has come under fire for its extortionate effect on micro economies and slammed for its inherent lack of safety. In an article by The Guardian, it was dubbed a ‘parasitic monster’ after one Barcelona ‘host’ racked up £33,000 a day by managing properties at peak holiday season. What was once shunned by snobs as a cheap on-trend method of immersing yourself in authentic culture, has now grown into a hipster scheme that swindles money from local businesses. Owing to this, just how is it regulated – if at all? One thing is clear, many hotels are suffering the burden of competing with this affordable and accessible form of accommodation.

The process is almost too easy

The process is almost too easy; sign up via email to advertise yourself as a ‘host’ with a place to stay, providing pictures, facility descriptions and what could be considered very little personal information, whilst setting your own rates. Alternatively, browse for a place to stay as a ‘guest’ from a tidal-waves worth of options. Searches can be based on location, price and facilities – ranging from luxury treehouses to seaside penthouses. My sister recently travelled through Thailand – with one night at an Airbnb equivalent to only a mere £8 per person.

So, just how regulated is Airbnb and why has it become so popular? Depending on location, members face specific restrictions. For example, hosts must be registered and obtain a permit or a license before listing a property or accepting guests. Failure to do so can result in fines or the deletion of your account. On their website, these are the only regulations given, with the company describing their own rules as “confusing” and stating that they are “working with governments around the world to clarify these rules” – which doesn’t exactly reassure. At least there is the option of leaving ‘star’ ratings and reviews for the properties, however, there have been some troubling reports of guests being threatened or coerced by hosts into writing positive reviews despite rather shady or unpalatable experiences.

However, as with any online booking, there will always be a certain amount of risk. Therefore, it is still essential to do our research – Google the properties, ask for references or additional images if need be. Some hosts are happy to have over the phone contact before arrival, so it’s better to be safe than sorry in my book. Airbnb was formed on the premise that travel shouldn’t just be for the wealthy; if you’re a spendthrift student looking for somewhere affordable to crash for a few days, immerse yourself in living locally and having some once in a lifetime experiences, this could be your best bet.

On the other hand, it is hard to ignore the growing problem of the ‘Airbnb effect’, with The Guardian using Barcelona as a prime example for “old neighbourhoods [being] overrun with short-term tourists”. After spending some time there during summer, it’s hard to ignore that local housing has been significantly affected by the surge of temporary renting. Venturing through the winding backstreets in search of gelato, I became immersed in a sprawling market place and was warned by stall owners to keep hold of our belongings, as this was an area as renowned for pick-pocketing, as it was for culture.

At a glance, a lot of investment had gone into building luxury apartments that lined the area, to attract wealthy tourist buyers. These were built side by side against a backdrop of run-down local housing, rife with for sale signs. Behind the guise of make-shift stalls selling the traditional food and spice of Barcelona, crammed with people trying to make a living as they flashed ‘I Heart Barcelona’ merchandise at every wide-eyed tourist who passed by, was a definite, established economic divide. Locals made use of the flow of tourism the only ways they could, and yet, were still struggling to afford to pay rent.

as with any online booking, there will always be a certain amount of risk

I was shocked to see white signs scrawled with black or red messages taped to the windows of multiple residences. My tour guide explained that it was their way of rebelling; with many people being uprooted with no option but to move due to soaring rent prices. Some were even forced onto the streets, as the area they had once called home, was rapidly morphing into unfamiliar territory; leaving them unable to purchase property tailor built above their price range, many of which remained near empty until holiday season due to temporary renting, and sites such as Airbnb.

What kind of holiday experience is it, when those born and raised here are struggling to get by, at the expense of those who are just passing through? This kind of commercialised lifestyle is only becoming more popular, whilst bit by bit, local life is being ploughed over for the sake of another souvenir shop or big chain McDonald’s. With Airbnb providing people with cheaper alternatives than the traditional hotel, are the piggy banks of local micro-economies able to keep the areas afloat?

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