Megan Epler Wood, the director of the International Sustainable Tourism Initiative at the Harvard School of Public Health, says there’s “no question” that sharing existing city space is good for the environment.
The demand to build new hotels is incredibly high, according to Epler Wood, given that tourism is growing at twice the rate of global GDP. Home sharing can negate the need for so many new hotels, and thus mitigate the harmful effects that superfluous construction has on the environment.
Epler Wood, who rents a room in her own house through Airbnb, believes that the sharing economy can generate a more distributed form of income for areas that previously didn’t benefit from tourism. “The biggest change about renting a room in your home through Airbnb is that you don’t have to market at all,” says Epler Wood, which is a game-changer for homeowners who want to share their space and earn extra money, but not deal with the cumbersome responsibilities and cost or a reservation system when running a B&B.
Home sharing can negate the need for so many new hotels, and thus mitigate the harmful effects that superfluous construction has on the environment.
“I’m proud of my community,” says Epler Wood. “I like meeting people from all over the world.” Epler Wood’s support for home sharing is far from unqualified, however. She mentions concerns about wealthy business people accumulating property to rent it out through Airbnb, displacing locals from their communities in the process. She also says she believes that home sharing “can be problematic” if the host isn’t home and neighbors have a problem with the guests. These aren’t licensed hotel facilities, points out Epler Wood.
In the interview, Epler Wood shared her recommendations for increasing sustainability in the tourism industry. A big detriment to sustainable practices in the hotel industry, she says, is the franchising phenomenon, which took off after the Great Recession. Franchises don’t necessarily have to follow sustainability mandates. One of the most significant factors influencing how well a hotel follows sustainability best practices is its IT team, according to Epler Wood. “Sustainability depends on dozens to hundreds of indicators,” she says, including all metrics related to energy and water usage, as well as waste treatment. Hotels must be able to accurately track all of these indicators simultaneously.
Home sharing does have its issues…there are concerns about wealthy business people accumulating property to rent it out through Airbnb, displacing locals from their communities in the process. Epler Wood also says that home sharing “can be problematic” if the host isn’t home and neighbors have a problem with the guests. These aren’t licensed hotel facilities.
In addition to bolstering IT systems within hotels, Epler Wood believes we need to rethink how tourism taxes and revenue are distributed. In some places, up to 80 percent of tourism taxes are going to marketing tourism, according to Epler Wood, rather than being funneled back into maintenance of the destinations. Another priority, says Epler Wood, is that local hospitality workers must have access to affordable housing. She advocates for an international summit meeting to identify existing challenges and think critically about the areas most in need of investment. “We really can’t afford to be messing around [with?] this,” says Epler Wood. “It’s happening fast, and some real resolutions are needed.”
Megan Epler Wood explains the potential problems caused by the boom in global tourism (1:42 – 9:22)
Sharing space can help us avoid the construction of excessive numbers of new hotels (16:33 – 21:54)
Home sharing as a creator of more distributed forms of income 34:00 – 39:48