Damiano Avellino: “Fairbnb creates solidarity in sharing economy”

Interview 14.06.2019

Tourism constitutes over 10% of Italy’s gross domestic product, and tourists rent housing through shared economy platforms, but while that’s good for business, it’s not great for locals: city apartments are rented to visitors instead of residents and rents increase. Sharing economy platforms should be collectivized so that everyone benefits, says Fairbnb co-founder Damiano Avellino.

“Our cities are changing because of sharing economy. In my native Italy, apartment sharing platforms have caused challenges in popular cities like Venice or Bologna, where I live. These platforms contribute to gentrification: as prices rise, families can’t afford to live in the same place anymore, for instance. Commercialization takes a little bit out of the uniqueness of the city. Cities become unauthentic, like amusement parks.

We had the idea for Fairbnb, an ethical and collective home-sharing platform, back in 2014. We wanted to figure out how new sharing economy platforms can create solidarity and give back to the local community. Fairbnb’s main rule of thumb is one host, one home. You can only rent one room or apartment to ensure that visitors don’t have to stay in “fake” homes owned by someone who just aims to profit. The traveller can donate half of the commission to one of the area’s pre-selected social projects related to a number of societal issues, such as inequality, regurees, or environmental issues. We will activate the platform around the end of June or beginning of July of this year.

When you live in a city that attracts a lot of tourists, you’ll soon realize that what’s good for residents is good for tourists, but what’s good for tourists is not good for residents. Sharing platforms have become an infrastructural pillar of the economy, but only a few actors profit from them. It’s important to collectivize sharing economy platforms and ensure that everyone can benefit from them. This is why Fairbnb is a working cooperative and we’re evolving into a system where some of the platform’s users are also its owners. This way we can’t be bought or owned by sharing economy giants. It’s really important to us that we’re independent.

Cooperatives create a significant part of Italy’s GDP. We don’t have a strong startup culture, although we do have some amazing startup companies. We’re not big on business angels or venture capital funding. The lack of these funding instruments has hindered the process of getting Fairnbnb up and running, though. We relied mostly on voluntary work until just recently. However, I’m not a big fan of the startup culture, since the startup business model pushes you towards innovation that always has to be scalable. But not all good ideas are scalable!

As we approach the launch of the platform, we’re looking for more partners and projects in different destinations. We’re trying to create a replicable and adaptable model for Fairbnb. We’ve been contacted by roughly a hundred cities and organisations all over the world, but we’re currently focusing on Europe. I think Fairbnb should operate everywhere, but I’m most interested in beautiful smaller cities or rural areas that don’t attract as many people as they deserve to.”