There is now a significant body of work on this issue, but in a nut shell, the comparison between the environmental impact of a hotel stay versus collaborative economy stay in an Airbnb style home can be summed up as: less energy consumption, greenhouse gas emission, water use, waste production, and chemical use.
This is true even if the hotel you are staying at is a small boutique hotel. But keep the boutique hotel as an alternative to the chain hotel if you can, because again the difference in terms of environmental impact is obviously superior in the large chain style hotel. Think of all the little things that add up: from disposable toiletries, all those towels and linen that are changed more than you would at home, and the water and energy used for them. And then the use of electricity in the common areas for lighting and temperature control, and you can see that yes: consumption of water, energy and chemical use is higher, hence the green house gas emissions and waste production are higher too.
Often overlooked is the inicial input of energy invested in resources and the waste produced when the hotel is built. The building materials used can be accounted for in terms of resources used to produce them, as well embodied energy used to make them. This compares negatively to the zero consumption and waste invested in a collaborative economy stay such as an Airbnb style apartment.
There has been nevertheless, significant social impact in some cities in the world such as in Barcelona, where perhaps too many apartments have been turned into short stay accomodation and the city has crossed the line between being ‘touristy” to tourist saturated. I hope this will not happen in San Sebastian, (Donostia in Basque), a city close to my heart, which is home to me for a good part of the year every summer.
Over the years I have seen this city change from being insular to cosmpolitan, this change has occured in a relatively short period of time over, more or less I would say: the last ten years. A city where rents are high, and a significant percentage apartments, (close to 8%), were uninhabited in 2015, has seen many properties turned into collaborative economy accomodation for holiday stay.
This is a way of making use of existing structures and making holidays more afforable for families who want to have a longer stay in the city. A longer stay also means you get to learn and enjoy more about the culture of the place you are visiting, I think Donostia certainly deserves a few more days than other cities, for all that this city has to offer in and around it. And collaborative economy accomodation offers comfortable accomodation for families with children: added space, a washing machine, a larger area to share, a kitchen, and the added bonus of it all often being cheaper than staying at a hotel.
Paula Ajuria 2018