The "Sharing" Economy: Issues Facing Platforms, Participants, and Regulators A Federal Trade Commission Workshop
When I traveled in Europe almost 15 years ago, I had my eyes opened to the different lodging options beyond the two I grew up knowing (camping and hotels). Hostels, gites, and other 'in-between' lodging options meant I didn't have to buy/haul expensive camping gear or shell out hundreds of dollars a night to lay down for 8 hours. In Europe I saw both older (retired) and younger (college age) people traveling in a way I didn't see in the US. Sure, there is an excellent transportation system which helps but if those people had no where affordable to sleep, I doubt they would have gone far. Older and younger populations have something in common besides time/interest in travel: lower and fixed incomes. I filed away this observation as I saw the sights. When I got back to the US, I put my dreams of travel on hold. I couldn't afford it. I got a job and did all the right things (or tried to) but still, every year, the $2000-$3000 I had hoped to save to go on vacation would get eaten up by an emergency room visit or a major car repair. It was soul crushing to think I couldn't afford to go on a week long vacation once a year as a young adult, even somewhere close. The town I live in, Bar Harbor, used to have a hostel years ago. Since I've moved here, I thought it was a shame that you either have to stay at a campground; rent a house for a week (and split the cost with a group of friends/relatives to keep it affordable); or stay in a hotel or inn. What about an in-between options like I had seen all those years ago in Europe? What about people like me, just starting out in life or on a fixed income, being able to come here on vacation? When AirBandB came into existence in 2009, I realized this was my chance. Suddenly I could consider going to conferences, or taking a long weekend without worrying I would be spending thousands of dollars to do so. Travel was now in my reach financially. I have used AirBandB as a traveler and have been very satisfied with my experiences. When my husband and I got married, we saw we had a unique opportunity to provide an affordable, year round option to visitors coming to MDI by being AirBandB hosts ourselves. For $70/night, you can stay in the spare room of our house. We've had some inspirational guests who could not have afforded to travel to Bar Harbor otherwise: an architectural student studying in Boston from Hong Kong; a student and her mother visiting COA; two retired Dutch men who just wanted to snowshoe for a week. All these people cooked in our kitchen, shared coffee and stories with us, and otherwise touched our lives. Of course, they didn't just hang out at our house all day; I have sent our guests to locally owned coffee shops, restaurants, and other attractions. It has been as rewarding to host people from different places as it has been to travel very sincerely. Does everyone who goes on vacation want to pat a dog that isn't theirs, talk to strangers, or share a bathroom? No. Is staying in our house anything like staying at a hotel? Not really except it has a bed. Do we offer an affordable, year round alternative to travelers at a price/amenity point between camping and staying in a hotel? Yes. AirBandB gets people to Maine who would not (or more accurately could not) come otherwise. Efforts toward real change may be working against laws that seem to penalize inns/hotels (maybe changing taxes paid for example). Squashing those of us making a few thousand dollars of income per year doing this seems misplaced and counterproductive towards increasing our local and year round economy. In a world where basic expenses are increasing for everyone, can't we all agree that everyone deserves a vacation once a year somewhere beautiful and restorative like Maine? To compare the hotel industry with one I am more familiar with, I make websites, as do a lot of other people/companies. Many are cheaper than me. You know what? There is room in the market for all of us. And it is true with lodging.