Fairbnb: A Worldwide Challenge Sent From Italy

An Italian startup will try to make tourism slow and ethical, with a focus on giving back to the local communities

In the last 10 years tourism has changed radically. Low cost airline companies, smartphones and platforms like Airbnb have made it possible for everyone to travel with low budgets without referring to a travel agency. If on one side, this has widened the range of people that now can afford to travel, on the other it has triggered a process of “musealization” and gentrification in many cities all across the world. These urbanistic phenomena impact the social structures of cities. In the first case, historic neighborhoods turn into attractions, previous commercial activities are replaced with services for tourists, like bed and breakfasts, restaurants, souvenir shops and international franchises. In the second case, these platforms assist outsiders of a neighborhood to buy houses, invest money in their restoration, and thus change the feel and culture of the neighborhood. In both cases the most impactive effect is a big increase in rent and housing prices, making housing unaffordable for locals to stay.

In Italy, probably the most extreme consequences of this tendency can be seen in Venice. I remember that in 2017 I met an artist who was planning to put speakers all around Venice to ironically say, “Ladies and Gentlemen, the amusement park is going to close, we urge you to move towards the exit.” Less than one year later, turnstiles have now been placed to regulate the flux of tourists. The result is a city population progressively disappearing, a victim of its own actions as it simply follows the pressures of the market.

In this scenario a change is still possible and it is with the purpose of more ethical and sustainable tourism that Fairbnb was created. This startup, with a name that is a smart provocation, was founded in Bologna in 2017 by a multicultural team of young people. It is still in progress and when it will go onto the market, it will essentially work as an online booking platform but with some different, unique rules. Owners of a home will be able to rent it out and 50 percent of the commission will be appropriated for local associations to be reinvested in social projects for the neighbourhood. Therefore, allowing the citizens to democratically make decisions for their own neighborhood and thus directly affect change for the better. This is to help fight speculation, social tension and above all, tax avoidance, while offering transparency and a more ethical use of the profits as key points of this project.

There are already more than 500 people ready to start this new way to rent their house. Only time will tell if this bet will pay off. It will be hard without a doubt; the internet has allowed big platforms to expand, but this also means it will be difficult to gain market space and attract customers among the many available choices. Fairbnb could start a revolution and we wish them good luck on their endeavor.