"I'm making friends from all over the world," Christina Navarro says. She rents out a room in her San Francisco Victorian to international visitors, about 100 in the past two years. She showcases her place on Airbnb, an online company that specializes in tourists who are looking for unique experiences.
"The city's number one industry, tourism, is now being brought into all the neighborhoods throughout the city," Airbnb's Molly Turner says. And that has had a $56 million impact on the San Francisco economy between April 2011 and May of this year according to a study commissioned by Airbnb.
It's also had profound benefits for the 3,000 hosts in San Francisco like Navarro. According to the study, more than half use the money they collect from guests, not for splurges, but to make ends meet. "It helps. It's added a little bit. It's made things a little easier," Navarro says.
The company currently operates in 30,000 cities worldwide. On Tuesday, it launched a new service. Its website now offers detailed information on dozens of neighborhoods in seven large cities. The company is also starting a pilot program in its hometown of San Francisco enlisting coffee shops like Farleys in Potrero Hill to serve as pseudo-ambassadors for travelers.
These moves are being closely scrutinized by the traditional hotel industry. "Hotels and Airbnb both help visitors that are coming to the city so for us, there's definitely a competition on some levels but it's also benefiting the city as a whole," says Kevin Carroll with the San Francisco Hotel Council.
City government still has concerns over the legality of the short-term rental market. Supervisor David Chiu is now working on legislation to clarify some of the controversy.