Airbnb in firing line for tougher EU regulation

Lucy Harley-McKeown
·2-min read
Small toy figures are seen in front of diplayed Airbnb logo in this illustration taken March 19, 2020. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration
The news comes as Airbnb gears up for a multibillion dollar IPO, where much of its internal workings will be revealed in its prospectus. Reuters/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

As if this year hadn’t been tough enough for Airbnb, the ubiquitous accommodation platform is in the crosshairs of EU regulators under the new Digital Markets Act (DMA).

The accommodation and travel sectors have been among the hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, which saw global lockdowns slow trips to a halt for months.

Now, EU regulators are preparing to introduce their first big overhaul for internet companies in 20 years, judging them by which platforms act as “gatekeepers,” according to reports in the Financial Times.

Citing people with knowledge of the discussions, the FT said Airbnb’s inclusion on a list of gatekeepers was a “real possibility,” alongside the likes of Booking.com.

The two companies occupy a significant chunk of the short-term rentals market on the continent.

The DMA proposal will have two components, according to previous comments from executive vice president to the European commission, Margrethe Vestager.

These include a "clear list of dos and don’ts" for "big digital gatekeepers", which she said "will be based on our experience with the sorts of behaviour that can stop markets working well."

They will also look to a "harmonised market investigation framework" that will span the EU's single market — giving the executive the power to preemptively intervene in digital markets to address structural problems before they become entrenched and lead to baked-in internet monopolies.

Being classed as a gatekeeper by the EU would mean companies would be forced to share customer data with their smaller rivals. It would also mean a ban on giving preferential treatment on their platforms to their own products and services.

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Airbnb said in response to the possibility of being classed as a “gatekeeper”: “Travel is a competitive industry and we do not believe that Airbnb, or the sectors in which we operate, raise the concerns that the commission has identified with other companies. Competition in travel has brought significant benefits to European consumers in terms of choice, access and lower prices.”

The news comes as Airbnb gears up for a multibillion dollar IPO, where much of its internal workings will be revealed in its prospectus.

Reports came last week that the platform is aiming to make its public listing registration next week, setting it on course for a New York Nasdaq (^IXIC) stock market listing in December, according to reports by Reuters.

It’s set to be one of the largest IPOs of this year, showing optimism in the face of a still-suppressed travel industry.

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