Airbnb: the unsung “B-side” of the digital technologies playlist disrupting Byron Bay, Australia

Authors: Deborah Che*, Southern Cross University, Rodney W Caldicott, Khon Kaen University, Sabine Muschter, Southern Cross University, Tania von der Heidt, Southern Cross University
Topics: Tourism Geography, Australia and New Zealand, Economic Geography
Keywords: Airbnb, sharing economy, moral panic, digital disruption, gentrification, inequality
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/3/2019
Start / End Time: 12:40 PM / 2:20 PM
Room: Hoover, Marriott, Mezzanine Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

This paper responds to growing concerns regarding the prevalence of Airbnb in the tourist hub of Byron Bay, Australia. Byron Bay’s eclectic lifestyle, alternative culture, wellness resorts, surfing, whale watching, and music festivals attract more than two million visitors annually. Airbnb listings, which account for 17.6% of the total housing stock and nearly half of all rental housing in Byron, help fill a significant shortfall in conventional tourist accommodation. However, the demand for tourist accommodation also contributes to ongoing gentrification; the soaring property market; an influx of wealthy, non-resident investors; and the conversion of properties for the short-term holiday rental market. Underpinned by theoretical constructs of moral panic, decision-making, consumer choice, and tourism policy reform, Byron provides an ideal lens to examine community sentiment (fear) about change and the ‘other’ represented by Airbnb. From interviews and a survey of local residents, we found Airbnb’s rapid expansion has been viewed as disrupting neighborhoods; displacing families, the local workforce, and long-term residents; and undercutting the traditional accommodation sector. On the other hand, Airbnb has provided lower-socio-economic visitors with affordable accommodation in Byron and provided middle-class Airbnb homeowners with supplemental income that enables them to remain in town. We thus present a flip or B-side regarding mobility and inequality as it relates to affordable travel for tourists and mobilization of assets for Airbnb hosts to the critiques of Airbnb as digital disrupter.

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