The Future of the Sharing Economy in the COVID-19 Aftermath

Opinion

The sharing economy, an economic system that involves individuals renting out or sharing their personal property including their homes and cars, has been severely impacted as the wave of COVID-19 ebbs and flows across the world. Popular companies like Uber, Airbnb, bike shares, and a variety of coworking spaces that we are so accustomed to being essential parts of our lives, have been making adjustments and creating new strategies to ensure that their customers feel safe and reimagine how they might adapt to an uncertain road ahead.

With so much unknown about what the future holds and how the “new normal” will define our personal interactions and willingness to share our spaces, the galvanic forces exerted over us by this pandemic are demanding us to, at best, read into the tea leaves to make assumptions about the future. Although public sentiment seems unsure, data shows that these businesses are back on track and that people are actually regaining the confidence to use an app to call a car and stay in a stranger’s home for a long weekend getaway. Entering the fifth month of strict social distancing measures for many parts of the world, the lockdown fatigue has kicked in, domestic travel is becoming popular, and for now, the only choice of escape.

"Most Popular" Airbnb Listing from Airbnb Newsroom. Image Courtesy of Airbnb

“Most Popular” Airbnb Listing from Airbnb Newsroom. Image Courtesy of Airbnb
 

Airbnb, founded in the height of the 2008 recession, not only completely upended the hotel industry, but also helped to curate local experiences and recharge the economies of smaller communities where hotel properties were scarce. Travelers who seek out an authentic experience often turn to Airbnb for the opportunity to stay in a host’s own home to understand what daily life is like in their destination. Although home-boarding businesses are hardly new, Airbnb found a way to carve their own niche into the market and become one of the most recognizable tourism brands in the world.

In a recent report released by Airbnb, they cited that over the weekend of June 5-7, only three months after the pandemic grabbed hold of the United States, gross booking value grew in year-over-year terms for the first time since February. Airbnb also found that guests are looking to stay closer to home, which indicates that they’re not longing for a staycation in a major city any time soon and that travelers are perhaps not quite ready to board a plane again. Airbnb also noted an increase in popularity for reservations in cabins and cottages which are more secluded, and that customers are looking to reserve entire homes instead of rooms where the host might live in other parts of the residence. They also noted that 29% of bookings were made within a week of the arrival date, and in larger groups- suggesting families that have been stuck at home together are making a last-minute decision to find a new view. Airbnb has continued to find their success in the variety of homes that are available for rent, and by also providing customers with the most up-to-date resources necessary to put homeowners and home renters at ease.

A cyclist with medical mask in Paris during the period of containment measures due to the Covid-19. Image © Frederic Legrand | Shutterstock
A cyclist with medical mask in Paris during the period of containment measures due to the Covid-19. Image © Frederic Legrand | Shutterstock
 

Homestays aren’t the only industry adapting to this uncharted pandemic territory. Defined by its excellent user interface and ease of being able to get from one place to the next, Uber famously transformed the rideshare industry and not only created a highly competitive market for more traditional options like taxi cabs, but also expanded into the food delivery service industry- a key revenue generator during this pandemic. While supermarkets face empty shelves, and communities continue to support local restaurants that are quickly being threatened with permanent closures, it makes sense that Uber Eats’ sales have surged over the last few months. The app has also seen a 30% increase in new customers who have signed up for the app and also an increase in the number of drivers who want to supplement their incomes by making the occasional dinner delivery.

While dining rooms are also forced to shut down, restaurants are looking for new ways to connect with customers- and Uber Eats seems like their best bet. Even popular chains like Chipotle, which have historically worked with competitor deliver apps, have started to utilize Uber Eats in many of their markets across the country. This increase in Uber Eats’ business is a moment of positivity among the surmounting bad news that seems to be plaguing the world as COVID-19 continues with no end in sight.

There is little reason to believe that some of the tourism and travel industries’ biggest disruptors will be disrupted in the long term. If there’s any business that can survive a pandemic, it’s one that remains nimble and agile, and ready to adjust to any unforeseen event. The sharing economy has transformed the world, and it may be one of our best bets to restore the normalcy we are all hoping for.

Author: Kaley Overstreet

This article was first published in Arch Daily and is republished with permission.

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