District of Columbia
The "Sharing" Economy: Issues Facing Platforms, Participants, and Regulators A Federal Trade Commission Workshop
I am an Airbnb host in Washington D.C. I chose to host not just for the economic benefit, but also for the cultural exchange and the potential to effect my up-and-coming DC neighborhood by exposing it to those who would not otherwise visit it. While I considered renting out my spare room full time for increased revenue, I didn't want to give up the flexibility of using that space for myself. Airbnb allows me a perfect compromise. Their insurance gives me the peace of mind needed that I am safe and secure when hosting, and their interface provides me the tools I need to manage my short-term rental in ways that are best for me. For instance, I can set my "refund" cancellation at low, moderate or high -- which is clear to the consumer. My space is set at moderate which means that if they cancel their reservation within 5 days of the checkin time, they then have to negotiate with me for a refund. My personal policy is that they lose 25% of their fee for every day closer to checkin unless another guest books, which I think is fair as I am out a guest for the time period and hence revenue. I also appreciate that there is a review process - allowing me to review guests and guests to review me. That feedback loop is imperative to ensure a safe and sound experience for future guests and hosts. Having Airbnb also promotes competition. Not everybody has the disposable income to stay in a DC hotel or if they want the personal experience, a regular B&B. Airbnb allows hosts to dabble in the hospitality business while providing a personal service at a lower cost. I think this is a niche in the hospitality business that will improve other niches. I have only been an Airbnb host for a couple of months but I have thoroughly enjoyed my guests. My first guests were a Mormon couple moving to DC. They started as "customers" but left as friends as we exchanged ideas and ideologies. Same with the others who have stayed with me exposing me to their cultures. It's like taking an international vacation without leaving my home. I don't know what sort of regulations the FTC would consider placing on hosts, or how they could be enforced in my private home -- however they cannot be too stringent. I know college kids whose Airbnb experience is little more than couch surfing. And while they probably rely on the revenue, they wouldn't comply with stringent regulations and an entire segment of the service would be diminished. The Sharing Economy ultimately relies on trust -- driven by peer reviews. I feel the standards required for maintaining a service are higher than some of the regulated services I have used because one bad comment about a stay with my Airbnb will kill my service completely. I've stayed in some pretty disgusting hotels -- regulated -- yet a checkin to an Airbnb home that isn't clean would prevent future customers. Another example is Uber. I rode with somebody once who was such a terrible driver -- didn't put her headlights on at night. I graded her low, Uber called me and the feedback was that she was removed as a driver. I can't imagine a Taxi driver being subjected to such harsh and quick action.