From launching its iPhone app to its role in freeing up the monthly rental market, we've been following the growth of Airbnb with interest—not just as a new type of vacation experience, but as a model for collaborative consumption in general.
But this latest development will be less welcome, for Airbnb fans at least—although hotel owners may be breathing a sigh of relief. Because the San Francisco Chronicle reports that Airbnb must now pay city hotel taxes according to a ruling by the city's treasurer. Proponents of collaborative consumption are arguing that an entirely different business model should be subject to entirely different legislation:
Airbnb and influential tech investors who contributed heavily to support Lee's election in November had opposed the decision by Treasurer Jose Cisneros as a ham-fisted measure that would smother a burgeoning "collaborative consumption" economy where people use social media to rent out spare rooms, find dog-sitters and share cars.
Laws like San Francisco's hotel tax, adopted in 1961, "were written long before the Internet or any of these activities were conceived," said Kim Rubey, an Airbnb spokeswoman. "Innovative new models that allow San Franciscans to generate additional income should be addressed by innovative laws and policies - not stifled by 40-year-old regulations."
Much like the idea that cyclists should be allowed to ride through stop signs, I can see the argument for an alternative approach to taxation based on the realities of collaborative consumption—not the norms of the regular hotel industry. But whatever the rights and wrongs of the San Francisco case, there is one encouraging thing to take from all this: collaborative consumption is growing into a very real, very serious business model, and as such it is being asked to pay its way.
Exactly how it does that remains to be worked out. But the fact that it should is beyond question.