Despite Airbnb’s recent evangelism at the Democratic National Convention, data throws a wrench in the company's narrative.
Airbnb tried to win over Democrats with a new study of theirs that claims millennials overwhelmingly love the company, and the sharing economy in general. However, taking a deeper look at millennial travel habits, Airbnb may not be quite as popular as it appears.
Resonance Report’s 2015 "Portrait of the U.S. Millennial Traveler" found that while 40 percent of millennials say they regularly use Airbnb, only 11 percent say they prefer it to other options. Hotels came in first place in preference with 54 percent, friends and family came in next with 37 percent, and camping came in third with 24 percent.
The reason why millennials prefer hotels isn’t that surprising. It’s all about the Wi-Fi: 58 percent of millennials say internet access is the biggest hotel feature, followed by privacy (48 percent), and the beach (42 percent).
To be fair, the Airbnb survey didn’t cover how often millennials use Airbnb or their preference for the service over more traditional travel options, like hotels. But you’d expect the millennial approval rating to coincide somewhat with their travel preferences and choices.
Airbnb is trying to court Democrat support and millennials are the focal point of their wooing. Democrats are the company’s biggest threat, with their continual calls to regulate and make sure the company pays their “fair share” in taxes.
Calls for regulating Airbnb focus on the company’s effect on housing costs and hosts who rent out multiple houses. Despite Airbnb claims that it allows hosts to gain extra income without disrupting affordable housing and neighborhoods, an independent analysis found that over 40 percent of Airbnb’s business is made up of hosts renting out multiple listings. The company has also been accused of “purging” over 1,000 listings before releasing its New York City data. A real-estate developer, in a leaked memo, estimated that by renting to Airbnb tourists instead of locals, landlords could double their earnings.
Convincing Democrats that Airbnb should be treated as a friend could go a long way in reducing regulatory threats. The problem is, Airbnb has painted themselves as an income-inequality fighter, but it doesn’t have the data to back up that claim.
For Republicans, who usually approve of the sharing economy and its disruption of monopolized and stagnant industries, this doesn't present much of a problem. Let people run their businesses on Airbnb. If they provide a better service than local hotels then they deserve to keep operating. It’s the basis of the free market.
But for Democrats, who have a history of critiquing the sharing economy, priorities align differently. If Airbnb says they help alleviate income inequality, but the data doesn’t match up, Democrats are going to have a hard time supporting it.