Tourism is booming in Iceland – a 29% increase in the number of foreign visitors from 2014 to 2015 is helping drive the country’s recovery from the 2008 banking collapse. Currently there are not enough hotels to cope, and all sides admit home stay sites have helped fill the gap. But since Reykjavik has a population of only 122,460, critics say these short-term rentals have created a housing shortage for residents. This is a charge Finnbogason says is overblown. “Most Airbnbs in Reykjavik, like mine, are businesses,” he says. “But I am still a host: I provide a home experience unlike a hotel.”
While cities like Berlin, Reykjavik and Paris are trying to work with home stay sites, in the US, namely New York and San Francisco, the relationship is more strained. In June, the New York Senate banned the listing of short-term rentals in the city on Airbnb. The same month, Airbnb filed a lawsuit against San Francisco after the city passed a law forcing the firm to remove all listings that haven’t been registered with authorities or face steep fines.
New York University professor Arun Sundararajan, author of the new book The Sharing Economy: The End of Employment and the Rise of Crowd-Based Capitalism, says “cities are used to governments setting and enforcing the rules, which makes sense with a few thousand hotels and B&Bs.” But with “tens of thousands of Airbnb hosts, we must consider the possibility that the platform becomes a partner in resolutions, part of the solution.”
Airbnb describes its hosts as ordinary, global-minded citizens who share their spaces to help pay the mortgage or save for retirement. For many people who use home sharing sites, the appeal of extra income is just too strong to dismiss.