Does sharing
mean caring?

How Airbnb relates to responsible tourism

Living in the Netherlands, one is used to an abundance of people on a territory that can be considered slightly too small for its population. On top of this, while already being very populous, the Netherlands and its cities in particular are crowded with tourists. This has led to policies to control the growth of the tourism sector in the country. For example, measures in Amsterdam strive to reduce ‘entertainment transportation’ such as segways and tour boats to make way for functional transportation and recover the quality of life for locals. Additionally,  there are constraints in the amount of days that houses can be let to tourists, for example through Airbnb (1) (2).


Airbnb is an online global travel community that offers a popular platform to improve the finding of a suited accommodation. In about 81.000 cities in the world spread over 191+ countries, one can find a temporary home with Airbnb’s online accommodation marketplace. These homes vary from simple rooms, houses or apartments to treehouses, castles and tents; something for everyone and all unique in their own way. Airbnb started in 2008 and has experienced immense growth since then (3) (4).


Airbnb claims to function according to the concept of the sharing economy, which is an emerging economic-technologic phenomenon. In general, a sharing economy means that demand and supply come together through the sharing of underutilized assets, such as living spaces. Demand and supply in the sharing economy often find each other on online platforms. Key characteristics include the allowances for unwanted or underused goods to be redistributed, new ways of exchanging and trading in non-product assets such as spaces, skills and money and response to the demands of consumers to be able to pay for the access of goods instead of the need to own the good itself (5).

This concept of the sharing economy has the potential to contribute to social justice and environmental conservation through resource efficiency and through a more sustainable consumption pattern (6). The sharing economy may prevent the creation and production of new assets and enables people to consume responsibly by sharing assets. Additionally, according to Airbnb (7), the concept of the sharing economy enables people  access to the tourism industry where the platform contributes to diversification of livelihoods and generating an additional income.


However, the sharing economy is a relatively new concept that has not been involved in lots of research yet. It is therefore too soon to establish that its effects are only positive towards the society and environment. The social impact of Airbnb, for instance, has already been criticized before. Heinrichs (8) therefore also mentions that sustainability sciences should focus on the concept of the sharing economy.


Where the concept of a platform such as Airbnb implies environmental conservation, it is somewhat surprising that this doesn’t necessarily translate into their offered accommodation possibilities. Where other providers of holiday accommodation nowadays are almost obligated to explicitly show that they offer eco-friendly accommodation options, this is not the case with Airbnb. Where these other providers of holiday accommodation all promote their certification for responsible tourism, this is not the case for the accommodations that Airbnb provides. While searching for a home on Airbnb, it is not possible to select accommodations that are explicitly eco-friendly. This does not stimulate to choose for a responsible accommodation.


Responsible tourism does not only imply environmental conservation, but it also encompasses what its impacts are for the local population. The popularity of Airbnb has its positive effects on locals as they are able to gain an additional income by renting their houses. At the same time, however, the popularity of short term rent decreases the supply for long term renting opportunities, which makes it harder for locals to find a suitable place to live and simultaneously drives up the rent prices at the housing market (9).


Unfortunately, the popularity of Airbnb has its environmental downsides as well. Because the use of the platform is so easy and the costs of the rentals are so low, this would increase the amount of traveling across borders. Transportation, however, is known to contribute to pollution and can therefore harm the environment as well. In our next issue about transportation, we will further get into this.


 by Femke


  1. Gemeente Amsterdam. (2018). The City of Amsterdam’s approach to crowding in the city centre. Retrieved from

  2. NOS. (2018, May 16). Amsterdam neemt forse maatregelen tegen massatoerisme. Retrieved October 7, 2018, from

  3. Airbnb. (n.d.-a). Fast Facts - Airbnb Press Room. Retrieved October 7, 2018, from

  4. Airbnb. (n.d.-b). About Us - Airbnb Press Room. Retrieved October 7, 2018, from

  5. Gumbs, Q., Griffin, T., & Dodds, R. (2016). Airbnb Report. Retrieved from

  6. Martin, C. J. (2016). The sharing economy: A pathway to sustainability or a nightmarish form of neoliberal capitalism? Ecological Economics, 121, 149–159.

  7. Airbnb. (2017). Advancing Sustainable Tourism Through Home Sharing. Retrieved from

  8. Heinrichs, H. (2013). Sharing Economy: A Potential New Pathway to Sustainability. GAIA, 22(4), 228–231.

Barron, K., Kung, E., & Proserpio, D. (2018). The Sharing Economy and Housing Affordability: Evidence from Airbnb. SSRN Electronic Journal, .