Airbnb lets visitors live like locals

Coconut Grove townhouse owner listed her home with Airbnb for $62 a night.
Coconut Grove townhouse owner listed her home with Airbnb for $62 a night. Miami Herald

I’ll never forget my first Art Basel.

The vibrancy of the art, energy of the city and entrepreneurial spirit of the community resonated with me so deeply. For an Atlanta native then living in San Francisco, the people of Miami truly made me feel like I belonged.

That was December 2007, just a month after the idea for online home sharing and the company now known as Airbnb were conceived in my apartment. My roommate and I were struggling to pay our rent and decided to open up our living room to fellow designers coming to town for a trade conference. Sharing our apartment allowed us to stay in our home and start our company. That experience at Art Basel — particularly at a small breakout session known as Design Miami — fostered part of the creative vision for Airbnb.

Much has changed in the nine years since. Like Art Basel, Design Miami has flourished into an international must-see event, bringing together creatives from around the world to provoke, inspire and elevate us to what's next. Meanwhile, that tiny home sharing start-up has matured into a global people-to-people platform, with hosts in 34,000 cities.

Given Miami’s unique role in Airbnb’s roots, I’m particularly proud of how South Floridians have embraced home sharing as an opportunity to earn supplemental income and catalyze economic development in their communities. About 3,000 Miamians list a room or home for rent on Airbnb, welcoming over 161,000 visitors to Miami in the last year.

While home sharing touches every corner of South Florida from the beaches to the Everglades, the most exciting trends are occurring in up-and-coming neighborhoods outside of the downtown hotel district. Take Little Haiti, a neighborhood that has earned an international reputation for its dynamic art and restaurant scene. For travelers seeking to authentically experience Little Haiti, hotels are not an option, because none exist. Thankfully, Airbnb’s more than 190 Little Haiti listings have provided golden economic opportunities for the neighborhood and its merchant community. In the past year, Little Haiti’s Airbnb hosts — the majority of whom share their primary residence and nearly half of whom are simply sharing an extra unused bedroom — have welcomed over 3,200 visitors and earned nearly $1 million in income.

We can maximize this economic impact through tax deals that allow our host community to pay its fair share. Airbnb has secured agreements with 31 Florida counties — including Orange and Pinellas — to voluntarily collect and remit tourist development taxes on behalf of our hosts. A similar arrangement in Miami-Dade would unlock millions annually in brand-new tax revenue for the county.

As with any new and innovative industry, entrenched interests — particularly the hotel industry — have attempted to squash the home sharing movement. However, we view hotels and home sharing hosts as complementary pieces in the shared mission to enhance South Florida tourism. The Herald has reported that Miami-area hotels are selling out at record rates, even as Airbnb’s presence has grown. Our host community is not taking a piece of the hotels’ pie — rather, we are making the pie bigger for everyone.

Additionally, we have moved to thoughtfully address bias among a small subset of hosts on our platform. With the guidance of former Attorney General Eric Holder, we instituted a strong nondiscrimination policy for all Airbnb users and we are investing heavily in a range of new technologies and initiatives to help tackle this challenge. While bias, unconscious or otherwise, significantly predates the founding of our company, we are committed to doing what we can to serve as a small but hopefully influential part of the global solution.

Ultimately, the power of the Airbnb platform is that it motivates guests to blend into communities, belong anywhere and live like locals. Home sharing activates economies in cities ranging from world-famous destinations like Miami and Miami Beach to hidden gems like Pinecrest, Homestead and Kendall through existing infrastructure — people’s homes — therefore maintaining the fabric of what makes these communities so special.

This week, I’m making the pilgrimage to Art Basel and Design Miami to meet the next generation of artists and entrepreneurs. From the art of Wynwood to the Cuban restaurants of Little Havana to the shops of Coconut Grove, I and thousands of others will be afforded the privilege to experience Miami’s neighborhoods like Miamians.

Home sharing offers visitors a genuine — if temporary — home away from home and a new way to fall in love with the authenticity of Miami. But most important, home sharing offers Miami the opportunity to instill progressive economic development, promote technological progress and augment its brand as a crown jewel among the world’s preeminent cities.

Joe Gebbia is the co-founder and chief product officer of Airbnb.