City & Gild: Build, don't block the sharing economy
9 May 2014 6:14am
I travel to New York on business a lot and have in the past paid a small fortune to stay in hotel rooms which have the good grace to just about let you walk around the bed, carefully watching out for your shins. And then along came Airbnb. Not only could I rent a whole apartment for a fraction of the cost of a hotel room, but in the vast majority of cases, the apartment is a home. Staying in someone's home provides a sense of comfort and relaxation that makes being away from my own home all the more bearable.
Airbnb is one of the flagbearers of the sharing economy, the idea that when we're not using an asset we can make money by sharing it with someone else who needs it. And in a world of increasing pressures on housing capacity in big cities, Airbnb makes a lot of sense.
When too many cars were blocking up the roads in LA, the local government introduced car sharing lanes. They embraced the idea of sharing resources. It disappoints me enormously that hoteliers in New York are currently engaged in legal battles with Airbnb to attempt to legislate them out of business. Their claims are based around avoidance of hotel tax and the illegality of sub-letting for less than 30 days. In fact the key issue is unwanted competition, the resistance of traditional big business to the innovation of emerging new business models. Uber is shaking up taxis, Aereo is rewriting television, Tim Berners-Lee the inventor of the world wide web is championing open data through his Open Data Institute. Stalwarts claim that these new upstarts should amend their business practices to suit existing laws, but really they're using the law to restrict competition and innovation.
It is without question that the global economy needs to look to new models and behaviours for a more equal, harmonious and sustainable future. It is critical that industries across the board innovate in order to serve the common good. That doesn't mean not making a profit, it simply means not damaging others while doing so. Not only could the sharing economy have far-reaching impact on our sustainable and economic future, but perhaps even more critically it could have a major impact on our global collective spirit. Sharing builds connections, builds communities, builds understanding and tolerance. I for one, will continue to use Airbnb, Hailo, Uber and any other sharing economy based service I can find. It serves me well and I feel strongly that we should back this innovative movement, not legislate to stand in its way. Let's build, not block the sharing economy.
Simon Massey is global chief executive of strategic branding consultancy The Gild, www.the-gild.com