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Airbnb and the Unintended Consequences of 'Disruption'

爱彼迎和“颠覆”的意外后果

Tech analysts are prone to predicting utopia or dystopia. They’re worse at imagining the side effects of a firm's success.

技术分析师倾向于预测乌托邦或反乌托邦情况,他们对一个公司成功所带来的副作用却很难想象。

The U.S economy is in the midst of a wrenching technological transformation that is fundamentally changing the way people sleep, work, eat, shop, love, read, and interact.

美国经济正在经历一场痛苦的技术变革,它从根本上改变了人们的睡眠、工作、饮食、购物、爱情、阅读和互动的方式。

At least, that’s one interpretation.

至少,这是一种解释。

A second story of this age of technological transformation says that it’s mostly a facade—that the last 30 years have been a productivity bust and little has changed in everyday life, aside from the way everyone reads and watches videos. People wanted flying cars and got Netflix binges instead.

第二个关于技术变革时代的故事说,这主要是一种假象——过去的30年生产力衰退,日常生活几乎没有变化。除了每个人阅读和看视频的方式之外,人们想要的是飞车,而不是去看Netflix。

Let’s call these the Disrupt Story and the Dud Story of technology. When a new company, app, or platform emerges, it’s common for analysts to divide into camps—Disrupt vs. Dud—with some yelping that the new thing will change everything and others yawning with the expectation that traditionalism will win out.

我们把这些称为颠覆故事和技术的无用故事。当一个新的公司、应用程序或平台出现时,分析师通常会将其划分阵营——颠覆和无用——随着一些人的尖叫,新事物将会改变一切,而另一些人则打着哈欠期待传统主义将会胜出。

But both stories often fail to capture the way that new tech actually works—and the unexpected ways it can change not only its competitors but also its entire marketplace.

但这两个故事往往无法获取到新科技的实际运作方式——这些出乎意料的方式不仅可以改变竞争对手,还能改变整个市场。

Consider Airbnb. Like some of the most exciting start-ups of this century, Airbnb is a new kind of “aggregation” platform. It’s a portal that connects producers and consumers in the marketplace for accommodations—like Facebook does for content, or Amazon for commerce, or Uber for driving.

比如爱彼迎,就像本世纪最令人兴奋的初创企业一样,爱彼迎是一种新型的“聚合”平台。它是一个连接市场上的生产者和消费者的门户网站——比如Facebook为内容提供的服务,或者亚马逊为商业服务,还有Uber为司机提供的服务。

Five years ago, the Disrupt Story went that Airbnb was going to challenge hoteliers and maybe even make their business obsolete, as young people ditched Marriotts and Hiltons for the empty beds of strangers. Since then, Airbnb has enjoyed one of the more magical runs of any company founded in the 21st century. With a $31 billion private valuation, it’s the second-biggest “start-up” (if that label even still applies) in the country, after Uber. Its annual revenues are doubling by the year.

五年前,这个颠覆性的故事告诉我们,爱彼迎将挑战酒店经营者,甚至可能让他们的生意变得过时,因为年轻人抛弃了万豪和希尔顿,去寻找陌生人的空床。从那时起,爱彼迎就享受到了任何一家在21世纪建立起来的公司的魅力。以310亿美元的私人估值,它是国内继Uber之后的第二大“初创企业”(如果这个标签仍然适用的话),它的年收入比去年翻了一番。

So, naturally, the hotel business is in a state of wretched suffering—yes? Quite the opposite. Last year was the best year ever for hotel occupancy in the United States. The stock prices for the major hoteliers Marriott and Hilton are both up more than 40 percent in the last 12 months.

所以,很自然地,酒店业处于一种痛苦艰难的状态——是吗?恰恰相反,去年是美国酒店入住率最高的一年。在过去的12个月里,万豪酒店和希尔顿酒店的股价都上涨了40%以上。

Airbnb is a transformative travel business. But most people failed to predict the thing it would transform—for good and bad.

爱彼迎是一家变革性的旅游企业,但大多数人都没能预测出它会带来什么变化——不管是好还是坏的变化。

Let’s review what the market for accommodations looked like before Airbnb came along. Most vacation rentals were in empty second homes, often in beach, resort, and ski towns; renting them meant knowing an owner personally or working through a local agency. Meanwhile, most brand-name hotels in major U.S. cities were (and still are) near business centers, where locals might work, but rarely sleep, wake, and wander around.

让我们回顾一下爱彼迎出现之前的住宿市场,大多数出租的度假别墅都是空置的第二套房,通常是在海滩、度假胜地和滑雪小镇;租用它意味着需要亲自了解业主或者找到当地机构来进行手续。与此同时,美国主要城市的大多数品牌酒店都位于商业中心附近(现在仍然是),当地人可能会在这里工作,但很少在这里睡觉、醒来和四处闲逛。

Airbnb’s great contribution was to allow travelers to live as locals do—in the busy downtown residential areas, near the best restaurants, bars, and other local hangouts. Business travelers might prefer the amenities of a hotel. But what Airbnb offered was a superior simulacra of the local experience for leisure travelers—for an affordable price, which happened to support some local dwellers’ income.

爱彼迎的最大贡献是允许游客在繁忙的市中心住宅区附近居住,附近有最好的餐厅、酒吧和其他当地的聚会场所。商务旅行者可能更喜欢酒店的便利设施,但爱彼迎提供的是一种高级的模拟体验,为休闲旅行者提供了当地的体验——价格适中,这恰好增加了一些当地居民的收入。

Airbnb’s business took off among a particular demographic—young, urban, and relatively well off. Half of Airbnb’s bookings are made by Millennials, or those under 35 years old, and most of them are for leisure rather than business, according to the research firm MoffettNathanson. Airbnb has left an impressive mark on the way people travel to big cities: The share of American travelers using “private accommodations” like Airbnb quadrupled between 2010 and 2015, according to MoffettNathanson.

根据研究公司MoffettNathanson的说法,爱彼迎的业务在一个特定的人群中脱颖而出——年轻、城市化和相对富裕。爱彼迎上一半的预订由千禧一代或者35岁以下的人完成,他们大部分是休闲旅行而非商务旅行。爱彼迎在人们前往大城市的路上留下了令人印象深刻的印象:根据MoffettNathanson的说法,在2010年到2015年间,使用“私人住宿”的美国旅行者所占的比例翻了两番。

Percentage of U.S. Travelers Using Private Accommodations

使用私人住宿的美国旅客百分比



So how did all of this new business not hurt hotel bookings?

那么,这些新业务是如何不影响酒店预订的呢?

First, business travelers still prefer hotels; more than 90 percent of Airbnb’s business is in personal tourism. Second, if it weren’t for Airbnb, travelers might be suffering through a terrible squeeze in hotel space. The construction pipeline of new hotels plunged after the Great Recession. As the economy recovered and travel picked up, it seemed inevitable that the prices of scarce hotel rooms in major U.S. cities were set to soar. But they didn’t. Airbnb-listed rooms vastly expanded the supply of beds for travelers—tourists and business travelers alike—to lie in. With the explosion of the private accommodations market, rooms opened up and hotel prices stayed down.

首先,商务旅行者仍然喜欢酒店;爱彼迎中90%以上的业务是个人旅行。其次,如果没有爱彼迎,旅行者可能要在酒店狭窄的空间里煎熬。大萧条之后,新建酒店的管道设施急剧减少。随着经济的复苏和旅游业的复苏,美国主要城市中稀缺的酒店客房价格似乎不可避免地会飙升,但是他们没有。爱彼迎清单上的房间极大地增加了旅行者的床位供应——游客和商务旅行者一样——都可以享受。随着私人住宿市场的爆炸式增长,房间的供应量提高,酒店的价格下降了。

So far, this sounds like a wonderful transformation: Airbnb expanded the availability of beds for visitors, gave young tourists a more authentic taste of their urban destination, and kept prices down for all travelers.

到目前为止,这听起来像一个奇妙的转变:爱彼迎增加了游客床位,让年轻游客更真实地体验了他们的城市目的地,并让所有游客的消费都降低了。

But Airbnb's success also encouraged dubious behavior on the part of “commercial” power users—property owners who listed downtown units (especially second residences) all year long, as if they were hotel rooms. Why would would that be a problem? Open apartments occupied for much of the year by Airbnb-using travelers reduce the number of available homes to people who want to move into that building. High demand, plus lower supply, leads to higher prices. Several studies—including research from Harvard, MIT, UCLA, USC, and the University of Massachusetts Boston—have come to the same conclusion: Airbnb altogether drives up the price of rent in many neighborhoods. (It’s only fair to point out that some of the most strident conclusions came from studies sponsored by the hotel industry.)

但爱彼迎的成功也鼓励了“商业”用户的可疑行为——这些用户全年都在市中心登记市内住宅(尤其是第二套房子),就好像这些房子是酒店房间一样。为什么会有这样的问题呢?在今年的大部分时间里,由爱彼迎公司提供的开放式公寓让那些想搬进那栋楼的人减少了可用房屋的数量。高需求加上低供给,导致价格上涨。一些研究——包括来自哈佛、麻省理工、加州大学洛杉矶分校、南加州大学和麻省大学波士顿分校的研究——也得出了同样的结论:爱彼迎在许多社区都推高了房租。(公正地指出,一些最尖锐的结论来自于酒店行业赞助的研究。)

When I asked Airbnb about these claims, a spokesperson pushed back against them in several ways, arguing that the company doesn't have a wider effect on rental prices. First, he said the vast majority of Airbnb’s users are merely renting out primary residences rather than filling otherwise vacant units with tourists. Second, he said Airbnb has worked with several cities to write rules that crack down on commercial users who try to turn their secondary residences into ersatz hotel rooms.

当我向爱彼迎询问这些索赔时,一位发言人以多种方式反驳了他们,认为该公司对租金的影响并不大。首先,他表示爱彼迎的绝大多数用户只是出租主要住宅,而不是向游客提供其他空置房间。其次,他说爱彼迎已经与几个城市合作,制定了一些规则,打击那些试图将自己的二手房变成伪酒店房间的商业用户。

Indeed, Airbnb doesn't account for enough downtown housing to be the major driver of rising rents in major metro areas. But the basic economics is relatively straightforward. Airbnb isn’t just competing with hotels for travelers. It is often competing with locals for space. The company has shifted the burden of rising prices in crowded downtown areas from travelers to residents—pushing down prices for hotel rooms, while raising rents for city dwellers. Was that Airbnb’s intent? Almost certainly not. But that is the outcome, anyway, and it is a meaningful—even, yes, disruptive—one.

事实上,爱彼迎并没有考虑到市中心的住房足够成为主要城市地区房租上涨的主要驱动力,但基本经济学是相对简单的。爱彼迎不只是在与酒店争夺游客,它还经常与当地人争夺空间。该公司已经将拥挤的市中心地区房价上涨的负担从游客这是爱彼迎的企图吗?几乎可以肯定不是,但无论如何,这就是结果,而且是有意义的——是的,是破坏性的。

This outcome fits neither the Disrupt Story nor the Dud Story. Airbnb lowered prices for tourists, supplemented the income of renters, and simply made travel to major cities more fun. But upon inspection, it shares some things in common with more-controversial companies—albeit with less grave implications. Facebook and Twitter design for attention, but incidentally encourage mendacious outrage and trolling. eBay and Amazon design for open marketplaces, but incidentally encourage the frenzied resale of bulk-ordered toys around Christmas. Airbnb was supposed to challenge hotels by letting tourists pay renters. But its platform is unwittingly producing a subsidy of tourists, paid for by nonparticipating urban dwellers, who bear the cost of higher rental prices. Like just about every story these days about revolutionary tech platforms, Airbnb is a story both of democratized access to commerce and the unintended consequences of those democratizing efforts, even when they succeed on their own terms.

这个结果既不符合颠覆的故事,也不符合无用的故事。爱彼迎降低了游客的消费,增加了租房者的收入,并简单地让大城市的旅行变得更有趣。但检视之后,它与更具争议性的公司有一些共同点——尽管其影响并不那么严重。脸书和推特的设计引起了人们的注意,但同时也鼓励了虚伪的愤怒和挑衅。eBay和亚马逊为开放市场设计,但顺便也鼓励在圣诞节期间丧心病狂的转售批量订购的玩具。爱彼迎应该通过让游客支付租赁费来挑战酒店,但它的平台却在无意中给游客提供了一种补贴,这是由并没有参与进来的城市居民买单的,他们承担了更高的租金价格。就像最近关于革命技术平台的每一个故事一样,爱彼迎是一个既民主化的商业渠道,也是那些民主化努力的意外后果,即使它们以自己的方式取得成功。