Mapping The Dominance Of Airbnb On Athens
The world’s most popular short-term rental platform and how it is affecting our neighborhoods explained visually.
Airbnb has effectively created a new category of rental housing. This new category — called ‘short-term rentals’ — exemplifies a software-driven, platform-mediated market that occupies the gap between traditional residential rental housing and hotel accommodation.
A prime example of the corporate sharing economy, the American company operates an online marketplace and — with nearly 5 million listings in 81,000 cities and over 300 million check-ins — it has established itself as the world’s largest peer-to-peer hospitality intermediary. Guests benefit from the ease of use, decent rates, access to peer reviews, and a variety of housing options in neighborhoods not traditionally geared to tourism. Hosts benefit from the access to a huge audience, flexible living arrangements, and a steady flow of extra income in these times of economic crisis.
Nonetheless, Airbnb’s impact on cities and housing markets is not immediately obvious.
On the positive side, the company claims that the short-term rental market increases tourism and its economic benefits. It also provides additional income for hosts, particularly those who would not otherwise rent out their housing unit or rooms to longer term tenants, while benefiting neighborhoods that tourists traditionally do not visit, bringing additional customers to local businesses.
On the negative side, local communities and housing advocates point out that Airbnb is making it easier to illegally rent out apartment units to tourists, while taking those units off the market for full-time residents and driving housing costs higher, negatively affecting the quality of life in residential areas.
Accordingly, hotel associations are concerned that short-term rentals function as hotels but have an unfair advantage because they don’t pay taxes and violate safety and zoning regulations.
Attempts to regulate Airbnb, however, have encountered a significant pushback from the company, which summons a powerful weapon through disruptive business and lobbying strategies and by mobilising its community to protest proposed reforms and expand its political influence. While Airbnb and its defenders insist that these reforms must be updated to accommodate the new possibilities presented by the sharing economy, its opponents argue that Airbnb aims to avoid regulation and taxation, and threatens affordable housing in cities.
The company, which is based in San Francisco, was founded in 2008 as a way for people to easily list and rent out their spare rooms or their homes online. There has been a widespread concern, however, that a large amount of the activity on Airbnb is not ‘home sharing’, but rather a new form of de facto hotel that fuels gentrification and displacement.
In response to this concern, I set out to find how Airbnb is really being used in and affecting the Greek capital.
Airbnb’s increasing growth in Athens
To understand the impact of Airbnb on housing in Athens, I downloaded and analysed a dataset compiled by the independent, non-commercial monitoring service Inside Airbnb, which tracks the flow of ads on the online platform.
The data covers the city centre of the Athens urban area, the largest in Greece and one of the most populated urban areas in Europe, sprawling across the central plain of Attica. The study period is May 26, 2009 — May 9, 2017, and every Airbnb listing which existed at any point in this period in the city centre of the Athens urban area has been included in the analysis.
In 2017, there were 5,127 listings reserved at least once on Airbnb in Athens — a 6.8% increase from the previous year (4,801 listings), and a 56.5% increase from 2015 (3,275 listings).
It is not the case that there are 5,127 listings receiving reservations, but rather the fact is that, on average, half of the listings available in Athens in a given month receive at least one review from a guest.
Serving as the glue of the community, reviews can be used as an indicator of Airbnb activity. This metric lets hosts or guests to leave a detailed review of their experience. Receiving a positive review from a guest is absolutely vital for a host to have more reservations and they usually encourage guests to leave a review. According to Niels van Doorn, Assistant Professor of New Media and Digital Culture at the University of Amsterdam and Principal Investigator of the Platform Labor research project, “such ratings have become a major decentralized and scalable management technique that outsources quality control to customers of on-demand platforms, creating a generalized audit culture in which service providers are continually pushed to self-optimize and cater to the customer’s every whim.”
Indeed, serious Airbnb entrepreneurs may well refurbish their units to increase their success with the service. But still, the only necessary step for converting a long-term rental to a short-term one and for scoring quick money through Airbnb is just to evict the existing tenants, or not replace them when they depart.
Entire-home listings of high availability dominate Athens
Before proceeding, let’s remind ourselves that helping each other out by sharing our rooms or houses is one thing while commodifying them by charging a fee for their use is quite another. And this leads us to the more innovative aspect of the sharing economy, which is to disturb our material reality; according to author and critic Sebastian Olma, “to coordinate supply and demand of products and services that in their present form were previously unavailable on the market;” in our case, to allow people to sublet their houses.
It seems quite obvious, then, that, despite Airbnb’s outreach focus on small scale and occasional uses of its platform (the way, for example, that homeowners can pay their household regular expenses by hosting guests occasionally), most regulatory scrutiny of short-term rentals has been focused on entire homes or apartments. Of course, this scrutiny is not just limited to the room types in a given area — especially when it comes to Athens, where most of the listings are entire homes or apartments — but it is also extended to a listing’s availability and activity.
An Airbnb host can setup a calendar for their listing so that it is only available for a few days or weeks a year, while other listings are available all year round. Depending on its availability and activity, a home converted to full-time Airbnb use could be more like a hotel, disruptive for neighbors, taking away housing, and thereby fuelling gentrification across the city.
Yes, 91.6% of the Airbnb listings in Athens are available for more than 60 days a year. Keep in mind that the calculation of availability for each listing through insideairbnb.com tracks whether a listing is reported as available or unavailable on its calendar. This approach does not differentiate booked from unavailable properties, which means that the statistics could have underestimated the availability of properties.
Occasional VS commercial operators
Short-term rentals may also impact the housing shortage in Athens by offering a more lucrative alternative or a more flexible living arrangement to listing a unit on the long-term rental market.
With an average price of €55 per night across Athens, it would not be a hustle for some landlords to evict a tenant for the financial benefits of entering the sharing economy, right? The essence of sharing, however, does not involve the exchange of money. Again, sharing only happens in the absence of market transactions.
This is why the image of a family occasionally renting a spare room in their home, or perhaps renting their entire home for a brief period of time while they are out of town, is not representative of Athens anymore (as if it ever was).
But how can we distinguish commercial from occasional operators?
One way to do this is to look at hosts who have multiple listings on Airbnb. By definition a commercial operator is a host with more than one entire home listing, since only one of their listings could be their primary residence.
Estimating commercial operators this way will dramatically underestimate their numbers, since it will fail to identify hosts who have a single listing which is not their primary residence and which they run as a business. It will also fail to identify hosts who operate their listings via multiple Airbnb accounts. It is a useful first approximation though.
A ‘multi-listing’ is, thus, defined as an entire-home listing whose host has at least one other entire-home listing, or a private-room listing whose host has at least two other private-room listings.
Commercial operators that control multiple entire-home/apartment listings or large portfolios of private rooms are a 43.8% of hosts in Athens.
Here’s the top 10 of them for 2017:
- Eazybnb Team — 58 listings
- George — 47
- Dean — 43
- Miglen — 29
- Homm — 25
- Helena —20
- Home Rentality — 19
- Dima — 17
- Cleopatra — 17
- Blueground — 16
The ghost hotels of Athens
Most discussion of Airbnb’s impact on housing availability and affordability focuses on entire-home listings and for good reason. These are the listings which, if rented sufficiently often throughout the year, can no longer be housing a long-term tenant. Private room listings, by contrast, are generally assumed to have little if any impact on housing markets, since they generally do not displace renters.
If we look at groupings of private rooms rented by a single host in the same building, or in what the Canadian housing advocacy group Fairbnb has called ‘ghost hotel’, this assumption is clearly false.
Most ghost hotels in Athens comprise 2 to 5 private-room listings. The most striking fact about Athens’ ghost hotels, apart from simply their existence, is that one of them has 40 private-room listings and that it is a real hotel.
Among others, ghost hotels in Athens include:
- a seven-bedroom “gem of 1930 Bauhaus, featuring 3 independent apartments in the same building” and
- “two separate apartments in the same building that can host up to 13 persons”
Plaka, Exarchia, and Koukaki, top the Airbnb chart, surprises no one
I have noticed that when there is a discussion involving affordable housing and Airbnb in Athens, someone will come forward and reference Koukaki as the #1 exclusive AirBnB zone in the city. Almost true, given the small size of the area.
Following the neighborhoods of Plaka and Exarchia, Koukaki ranks third on the Airbnb chart of Athens with 343 listings, and fifth on Airbnb’s top 16 neighborhoods to visit in 2016, with 801% growth from 2015.
FYI: at the time of this writing, there are only 65 apartments available in Koukaki on www.xe.gr, the leading long-term rental platform in Greece.
As you might wonder, ‘#1 Event Venue In Athens | Acropolis View 360°!!!’ is the reason why Kerameikos is the most expensive neighborhood in Athens.
With an average price of €85 per night, Plaka ranks as the #2 most expensive neighborohood in the short-term rental market of Athens, followed by Pentagono, Rigillis, and Zappeion with €81, €75, and €74 per night respectively. I was hoping to see Kolonaki in the top 5, but it’s just #6 with €72,4 per night on average.
Taking those metrics one step further, the map below illustrates the distribution of all 5,127 Airbnb listings in the city centre of the Athens on May 9, 2017. Each circle represents a listing. The size of the circle is the listing’s price per night, and the colour is the room type.
Lastly, let’s take a closer look at the 5 neighborhoods with the greatest concentration of Airbnb listings in Athens.
Hopefully this data adds a bit more evidence to the discussion around the dominance of Airbnb in Athens and how it has become a symbol for quick value extraction. Now, the question is: How can we make the transition from a corporate consumer-driven to a citizen-centric sharing economy?
I’d love to hear your examples of non-profit, community-based alternatives and how they support forms of exchange that could actually be called sharing.
Notes on methodology
I initially became interested in exploring the dominance of Airbnb in Athens after discovering Inside Airbnb’s dataset, and settled on this methodology after coming across UPGO’s analysis of Airbnb in New York zip codes.
Once I isolated the names of each neighborhood in Athens, I queried the dataset to search each neighborhood for available Airbnb listings (focusing on the three available room types), their hosts, availability, and price/night, among others. Using the lat/long coordinates for each listing, I mapped each listing to its neighborhood. All code is written in Python.
- Airbnb provides NO PUBLIC DATA to help understand the use of their platform and the impact on cities around the world.
- Airbnb also provides NO DATA to cities or states to assist them in ensuring that Airbnb hosts and Airbnb are following the local laws.
- Tom Slee regularly scrapes the Airbnb site to produce maps and analysis of Airbnb use around the world.
- The data utilizes public information compiled from the Airbnb web-site including the availabiity calendar for 365 days in the future, and the reviews for each listing. Data is verified, cleansed, analyzed and aggregated.
- No ‘private’ information is being used. Names, photographs, listings and review details are all publicly displayed on the Airbnb site.
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