If you have done any travelling through Britain’s traditional holiday destinations, there is often real poverty hiding behind the facade. Earlier this year my family were in Cornwall. We arrived into St Ives on the train, a stone’s throw from the glamorous hotel that would host the G7 the following week. Walking a back-street an hour later, I saw a banner from a local group trying to prevent the sale of a townhouse row to an investment company, and urging people to sign a petition to keep the homes in local hands.
This is a story repeated across the country, with homes in popular locations snapped up to run as holiday lets, while local young people are priced out of the market. A lot of this has been driven by online platforms such as AirBnB.
When AirBnB launched a few years ago, it opened up a range of new travel possibilities. At its best, it allowed ordinary people with spare rooms or a flat to host holidaymakers, and earn a little on the side. It felt more personal than the usual hospitality industry, and had the sense of people organising things for themselves and sharing their space.
Over time, the impact of AirBnB has proved much more mixed. Rather than a dynamic community of sharing, it has mainly benefited second home owners. Many of them aren’t local, and have bought homes to manage online. Since you can make more money on holiday lets than renting to a local family, the house is fitted out for visitors and listed online. Prices rise and local people foot the bill, as the housing stock is hollowed out to serve distant landlords.
The more popular the destination, the more pronounced this effect can be, to the point that some local councils have had to intervene. Cities such as Barcelona, Edinburgh or Venice have come to see AirBnB as essentially extractive – drawing wealth out of the community for the benefit of others elsewhere.
While it doesn’t deliberately target AirBnB, the clue is in the name with FairBnB, a new initiative set up to foster a more pro-social form of travel. It is a co-op, so any profits from fees are shared. It only allows one home on the website per host, preventing landlords with multiple homes from running their operations on the site. And it splits the booking fee 50/50 between FairBnB itself, and community projects in the area.
By supporting local causes, FairBnB ensures that the benefits of travel don’t just go to those fortunate enough to have spare rooms or empty properties. It channels the wealth of visitors towards those most in need.
When booking through the platform, users can choose which local cause they will support. They will also be invited to participate, visit, or volunteer – so it can become a way to meet people and build relationships. It encourages a deeper engagement with the community than traditional tourism.
The aim is to create a travel platform that is not extractive – it’s not just there to hoover money out of holiday destinations, but to invest in them and in the people that live there. And it’s a useful example of how cooperatives can do things differently, share the wealth, and – to use a Biblical phrase – seek the good of the city.
Now available in a number of European destinations, FairBnB will be coming to the UK in the near future. In the meantime, here’s a short video introduction: