Stakeholder perceptions regarding Airbnb in Western Australia

Between 2015 and 2016, 12 key stakeholders from the tourism industry and government in Western Australia (WA) were interviewed to gain an in-depth understanding of perceptions of the Airbnb phenomenon. One objective was to explore perceived challenges and opportunities for the WA tourism sector and broader economy.

Interviewees represented tourism industry peak bodies, state and regional tourism organisations and associations, selected government departments and local councils, the tourism and hospitality education sector and accommodation providers. A diverse range of and sometimes controversial opinions were voiced reflecting different expectations, perceived benefits and concerns by the interviewed stakeholders from industry and government.

The semi-structured interviews were recorded and systematically analyzed with theGABEK/WinRelan method (Zelger 2000). As output, GABEK produces semantic networks of keywords that graphically display associations of interviewees (“Association Graphs”). Please note that due to complexity issues a GABEK Association Graph does not display all related statements, but the aim is rather to cover some of the central themes that revolve around an issue.

Perceived problems and concerns

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Critics, for instance, highlighted issues such as consumer protection as the non-traditional accommodation sector often avoids compliance with health and safety standards and adequate disability service provision. Further, concerns were raised over the impact of a poorly regulated and monitored non-traditional accommodation sector on local neighborhoods. Issues voiced in this context related to noise, increased traffic and the use of shared amenities by Airbnb guests. Furthermore, there are fundamental differences in terms of defining what the sharing economy can or should capture. The question on what constitutes private vs commercial, for example, was a contested issue. Some stakeholders mentioned the issue of tax avoidance. Critics pointed to an unregulated marketplace which in their view creates an uneven playing field as the accommodation-sharing platform constitutes a much less regulated element of competition. Moreover, investment in hotels may become less interesting relative to apartment options with investors seeking alternative investment returns by renting out units as short-term accommodation.

Perceived advantages and opportunities

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Advocates highlighted, for instance, the global reach of the distribution platform, which provides also a more flexible and user friendly set up and a more authentic tourism experience due to potentially close host-guest relationships. In the view of some stakeholders it can be possible to access new markets and additional target groups for the destination, with affordability potentially playing a role. According to some, Airbnb can assist destinations in better managing peak periods of tourism demand. Stakeholders also underlined the opportunity of additional income generation for Airbnb hosts and highlighted, on a more philosophical level, the benefits of social interactions generated through peer-to-peer exchanges and the underpinning ideology of sharing underutilized resources. Furthermore, they also anticipated positive economic benefits especially for regional areas, potentially generating distribution benefits. Finally, advocates praise a strengthening of the innovative and competitive element.

Concluding remarks on the analysis of stakeholder perceptions

Overall, stakeholders who participated in this study had a mixed attitude towards Airbnb, which was seen as adding a competitive element to the current market place that potentially could open up additional opportunities for tourism in WA but might also constitute a threat to the conventional accommodation sector. They recognized that the sharing economy and here in particular sharing platforms such as Uber and Airbnb were indeed contested issues for WA’s tourism sector that required close monitoring and governance in the future: Proponents and opponents agreed that there was currently a lack of reliable information to assess the extent and impact of Airbnb on WA’s tourism sector and wider economy and uniformly called for more robust and accessible data as well as decisive leadership in governing the sharing economy.