Tourism Platforms is a postdoctoral research project carried out at the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya by Maartje Roelofsen. The project explores how tourism-related digital platforms transform the everyday lives of their users. More specifically, it looks at how users of those platforms assert their political agency to challenge and change platforms’ modes of governance.

In public and academic debate there has been a growing concern for the socio-spatial impacts of short-term rental platforms on cities. Airbnb in particular has attracted much attention for impacting local housing markets and disrupting the everyday lives of residents. Opposition to these impacts has emerged through community-led initiatives, public manifestations, graffiti and posters in the streets, digital activism and local government interventions. However, little is known about the role of platform-users in asserting their political agency to influence Airbnb’s modes of governance. Drawing on a digital ethnographic and participatory approach, this project has a three-fold objective:

  • First, it aims to develop an understanding of how the Airbnb platform is governed and operationalized by analysing how the Airbnb platform conditions and regulates its users’ everyday practices, communication and transactions through its software, algorithms and terms of service.
  • Second, the project investigates how users of the platform encounter and respond to Airbnb’s modes of governance. Taking on a cross-national comparative approach, this project explores how Airbnb users in three different European cities – Barcelona (Spain), Venice (Italy) and Amsterdam (the Netherlands) – take issue with the platform’s role in causing highly uneven socio-spatial and economic impacts on cities.
  • Third, adopting a participatory approach, the project investigates what (collective) strategies users have to counter or challenge the platform’s modes of governance. In doing so, the project outlines possible strategies by which users can mobilize their efforts and direct action to Airbnb itself in order to bring about change to its practices and policies, potentially moving towards a fairer and more sustainable platform economy.

The project is funded by the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya for the duration of 3 years and is embedded within the Faculty of Economics and Business and the NOUTUR research group. This website documents the proceedings and outcomes of the project and is maintained by principal investigator Dr. Maartje Roelofsen.