This is an op-ed written by Emmanuel Marill, country manager of Airbnb France published in Le Figaro.
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In 1954, 214,000 people lived in the first four Parisian districts. In 1999, there were only 100,000. You read well, in fifty years, the population of the centre of Paris has decreased by half. Is the blame on Airbnb and homesharing?
These charges are unfounded, finding a scapegoat is easy. Airbnb does not chase inhabitants from Paris, but today it allows tens of thousands of Parisians to pay their bills.
Now to really tackle this historical exodus, we must really understand its causes:
There is, on the one hand, a global movement of departure from the hyper-urban centres towards the suburbs and the medium-sized cities. Paris is no exception to this dynamic that has affected all industrialised countries for several decades. While 6 to 7 units out of 10 in the centre of Paris have less than two rooms, families are looking elsewhere for larger places to live.
But there is also the challenge of the 200,000 unoccupied apartments in Paris, or 15 per cent of all Parisian housing capacity and more than three times the overall number of Airbnb listings in Paris. This old challenge has not been addressed so far: the proportion of these uninhabited housings units remains the same as in 1990.
A tourist and commercial concentration encouraged for decades
Today, a large majority of the hotel capacity and the large Parisian shopping areas are established in the centre of Paris, which increases house prices and forces residents out. This is the result of political choices in urban planning and economic development that have favoured the concentration of tourist and commercial offers for decades: 6 of the 12 International Tourist Zones created in 2015, more extensive in size, are located in the first four arrondissements of Paris.
What about Airbnb? The Airbnb community has only really been present in the capital since 2013. In this context, is it reasonable to have it take the credit for a little more than 2% decrease in population in downtown Paris since 2009, when at the same time, 50% of our hosts say they couldn’t afford to stay in their home without sharing it on Airbnb? Is it acceptable to make Airbnb accountable for Paris’s past, and political choices that have methodically and regularly encouraged the concentration of tourist and commercial development in a handful of boroughs in the capital?
Airbnb spreads tourist accommodation
These misconceptions, fed and hawked by hotel lobbies to the media and public officials, have no foundation. Giving way to them would be a historical contradiction. At a time when the major European capitals are confronted with the consequences of concentrated mass tourism, stemming from an outdated model back from the 1960’s, Airbnb helps to disperse tourism pressure beyond areas today brought to saturation point.
While fewer than 2 out of 10 Parisian listings on Airbnb are located in the first four districts of Paris, almost half are located in the outer districts, among which the 18th borough has the greatest number of Airbnb listings in the capital. The growth, both in the number of listings and travellers, is much higher as you move further away from the centre of Paris into the suburbs.
The reason behind the figures? By democratising and diversifying the furnished rental offer, Airbnb is radically changing consumer habits. An English family spending the weekend in in Paris is ready to take a few more minutes to visit the Musée d’Orsay, because they found accommodation that fits their needs in the 20th arrondissement, or in Saint-Maur les Fossés.
Let’s change the model for tourism in France!
Lastly, the growth of Airbnb in Paris this summer strengthened the tourist offer with an additional 730,000 tourist arrivals, without needing to build any new hotels. They went to restaurants, went shopping in new neighbourhoods they visited, and helped scatter tourism revenues throughout the capital.
In contrast to mass tourism that drives people away from urban centres, home sharing on Airbnb is a template of what tomorrow’s tourism might be: more democratic, spread out and beneficial to many communities. These dynamics must be encouraged and not hindered by an unbridled regulatory escalation, encouraged by hotel lobbies which have contributed for many years to the concentration of mass tourism in the centre of Paris.
The law ALUR and the law for a digital Republic have defined a regulatory framework for home sharing in the largest French cities. Let’s apply it sensibly, and resist the temptation to stifle this potential for our country. The 55,000 Parisian hosts are not the problem, but part of the solution for sustainable tourism in Paris.