L’Arc de Triomphe, Wrapped, Paris (1961–2021), by the team of Christo et Jeanne-Claude offered a rare perspective on a precious historical landmark, and also something to think about regarding our tourism practices.

Volumes is committed to highlighting and supporting virtuous economic initiatives that seek to make concrete change in the way we work, the way we create, the way we produce and consume… the way we live. As such, Volumes is partner of the expansion of Fairbnb.coop in France: a platform that has the ambition to be an alternative to conventional private rental platforms that need no introduction.

In order to take its message across, Fairbnb.coop has a prior mission: educate us! We talked with Marie Texier, member of Volumes’s team whose mission is to develop Fairbnb.coop in France. She already has in mind the well known mass tourism effects of the Olympics games, which will be hosted by Paris in 2024. From our conversation it became clear that we really need to question our traveling practices. Yeah, yours too.

Mass tourism explained

In really just a few years, we went from traveling within the borders of our countries once a year if we were lucky, to taking week-end trips across Europe as seen in movies from Cédric Klapisch, Wes Anderson… or a James Bond franchise, depending on our style and budget. Point being: it really did happen very fast, for everyone. Really everyone of us in the north-western side of the planet and then sizeable ‘emerging countries’ like China. No need to explain it further: this is mass tourism explained. Suddenly we all became annoyingly savvy about Mexican craftsmanship or Andean shamanic traditions, took field trips in the Amazon, crazy week-ends in Barcelona, week-long parties in Bali, binged on luxury sceneries in Santorini, without forgetting the Big Apple of course or, for those of the western world attracted to opposites, Japan.

Mass tourism disrupted.

It meant a great deal of discovery, unquantifiable human experience, endless possibilities and unlimited resources… But for many, it felt a lot like colonization all over again… Fast forward to now, we realized how wrong we were about our personal experiments and need to show more humbleness. No they were not that special, a lot of people like us had them, modifying entire local economies, homogenising cultures, pushing population further from city centers, encouraging real estate speculation and waste, without mentionning the endangering of ecosystems and heritage while we were at it. We did see Venice sink, Barcelona become Disney World for college guys and girls and people take weird mass interest in Iceland. Let’s not say the downside of globalization is all because of us mass tourists, but it certainly has a role. It certainly is related. For Marie Texier, responsible at Volumes of the expansion of Fairbnb.coop in France, this type of tourism “transforms the neighborhoods of the people offering rentals. It closes local businesses, extracts the wealth generated by the rentals, away from the community. It is called gentrification, a process that pushes locals to go live outside of their places of origin. Because the rental market is increasingly more focused on short-term offers, it transforms entire neighborhoods. To the point that their inhabitants don’t relate to them anymore, they can’t recognize them, while they lose their habits.”

“…And also, quite simply: they can’t find a place to live anymore within them! Because the accommodations are almost exclusively dedicated to tourists.”
Marie Texier, responsible at Volumes for the development of Fairbnb.coop in France.

Private rental platforms under scrutiny

Mass tourism is a product of a capitalistic vision. Of course it was not born with the Internet 2.0, our parents already enjoyed the pleasures of overnight flights across the Atlantic and visiting the Giza pyramids. The cultural phenomenon emerged after World War II thanks to the growing leisure time offered by social labour law. To give you an idea, we started out with 25.3 million international tourists in 1950 to… 1.1 billion in 2014! (Dumazier, 1962, quoted in an academic paper Mass tourism vs alternative tourism). In recent years, accelerated by low-cost airline companies, this change was facilitated yet further by the digital age and a few years later, the democratisation of private rentals along with so many parts of our lives, as the well known process of überisation of everything. What is great, and it’s important to underline that fact, is that it made a lot of things cheaper for everyone, but it also multiplied the volume of tourism… and everything else. Marie Texier explained to us: The short-term rental platforms propose rentals whose revenues are kept in large parts within the company, for its process but mainly to make profit. At Fairbnb.coop, we also use this profit to reinvest directly into the local community it is coming from, by supporting social initiatives. In Paris for example, we are partners of Thot, an association that helps people immigrating or seeking asylum in France by teaching them french. In Marseille, we invested in Hôtel du Nord, whose mission is to revitalize the neglected northern part of the city. This way, the wealth generated by the rentals stays in the community and helps make it grow and take the most of the profits.”

Fair tourism explained.

The fairer tourism is not about saddling the carriage and horses in order to see Dual Lipa perform in Paris. It’s about how we can be more reasonable with our travel choices, and make decisions that “strengthens local communities”.

  • Can I take the train instead of the plane for a two-hour flight that will take me just as long just to reach the airport and pass security, border and sanitary checks anyways?? Yes.
  • Can I support local shops instead of mega-brands that produce as much labor abuse as crop-tops waste?
  • Can I skip on the fuel-sucking, local-city-harbour-polluting cruise ship? Hum, yes.
  • Can I carpool my way to my surftrip in South Portugal with friends? Probably (if they grow up and learn to organize).
  • Can I rediscover my own country and try small village-restaurants that are not listed on Le Fooding guide? Easy.
  • In a more general sense: can I maybe not take a trillion pictures of something that is already a million times on Instagram? Yes… Can I just not go just for insta-appearances and go for the people? Maybe, but will need to make real friends.
  • Can I not feed corporations that evade taxes, pressure government policies and overshadow regulations? Definitely, cause now thanks to this article you know!

Marie agrees, and her joining the team of Fairbnb.coop stemmed from this personal awakening: “how to promote local actions”. While she traveled in Colombia, she was trying to seek the help of local guides instead of corporate tour operators. But the lodging part was harder to navigate and back to France she discovered Fairbnb.coop and decided to be involved in this project which is answering a real need.

Fair tourism in action

At Volumes, we believe mass tourism is one of the key hot topics warming the globe, but we also strongly believe in democratization of culture and travel is part of it. No matter how fair the reasoning, it would definitely not be fair to morally ban those who did not yet see New York, from seeing it with their own eyes… because they missed the wake up call for the sustainability train! So it is time to find an alternative to let everyone travel in style, but travel with principles. Here’s the perfect intro to our pick: Fairbnb.coop!

Born in Italy, Fairbnb.coop has a cooperative status… But what’s a cooperative you might ask? It’s basically a company where every user can be a shareholder. An employee, a host or a partner of Fairbnb.coop can participate to the growth of the cooperative “and that’s also how we federate our hosts community, it’s because of them that we can build a united, ethical and fair local community”, highlighted Marie. It does not mean they are against making profit though, but the goal is for it to be reinvested in the company, as much as in the community. As half of the 15% platform commission made on reservations is dedicated to local project funding.

Anyways, Fairbnb.coop was born in Italy, and that was not a coincidence… “One of the founders is Venetian”, Marie told us.

“In Venice, there’s a big problem with mass tourism. Venetians can’t find a place to live in the city center at a reasonable price anymore because all the places turned into airbnbs…”

She continues: “ Emanuele Dal Carlo [co-founder of Fairbnb.coop], launched a campaign quite militant against Airbnb, because it’s the main player there, to prove how toxic it was for the city and its denizens. Fairbnb.coop came out of that initiative.”

A quite provocative name, we might add, that tickles the giant and reflects their intentions of proposing an alternative, based on the local communities.

Of which Volumes is proud to be a member in France. And as such its offices will be hosting Fairbnb.coop’s first ever event in Paris, on tuesday, november 23rd, 2021 at 18:30, for which you can register here. Fair tourism, unfair tourism, gentrification, real estate speculation… If all these topics interest you, or if you feel like debating or simply be part of your local community, we’ll be waiting for you at Volumes Lab, in the 19th arrondissement of Paris, 78 rue Compans. Travel safe… and fair ;).

About the author: I am Yéléna Uzan, freelance writer and media consultant for Volumes. Write to us on Twitter at @volumesmedia_ to keep the debate going!