Airbnb’s hosts are often companies with up to 157 listings

Category: Best data-driven reporting (small and large newsrooms)

Country/area: Brazil

Organisation: Folha de São Paulo

Organisation size: Big

Publication date: 24/05/2019

Credit: Leonardo Diegues, Marina Gama Cubas, Fábio Takahashi, Rubens Fernando Alencar

Project description:

The article investigates Airbnb’s hosts profiles in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo using a combination of our own scraping and data from Inside Airbnb. The main findings are that few accounts concentrate hundreds of listings and that some of them are run by real estate companies. Since temporary renting laws are not well-defined in Brazil, the article unveils a conflict between the hotel industry, subject to taxes, and Airbnb. A spin-off article was produced using data from Rio to visualize the concentration of expensive listings in specific regions of the city. 

Impact reached:

The article raises questions on the usage of Airbnb for business purposes in Brazil. The capilarity of Airbnb was explored in Brazil’s largest cities, Rio and São Paulo. It was the first article to understand the distribution of Airbnb listings in these capitals. The investigation provides an at-a-glance overview of the relationship between Airbnb and state regulations, often misunderstood by the Brazilian audience. Moreover, it furthered a debate on legal issues of temporary renting, examining the controversies surrounding tourism and Airbnb’s platform.

Techniques/technologies used:

Scripts were built in R 3.5.0 to analyze georreferenced listings and calculate hosts metrics in a single pipeline. The R’s packages dplyr and tidyr were employed to analyze the data on listings for every user, as well as their reviews.  Next, the earnings for a host were estimated simulating a scenario in which all properties were rented. The frequency of listings in specific regions of the cities configured tendecies that were then plotted using QGIS 3.4.15, generating the main visualizations for the story. The spin-off article later produced was made with deck.gl, a large-scale WebGL-framework for JavaScript which helped us build 3D visualizations over Rio’s map.

What was the hardest part of this project?

The journalistic investigation faced its own particular challenges. The anonimity permitted by Airbnb’s platform limited the verification of the informations provided by characters featured in the story. Often, interviews had to be conducted through social media with the omission of the interviewed’s last name. However, all the information provided could ultimately be confirmed by a thourough interview of the data. From a technical standpoint, the scraping of São Paulo’s data alone took about two weeks to be completed, which delayed the analysis and configured the biggest challenge. Yet, it was overcome by a strict time management schedule, ensuring the story to fit the fast pace of Folha’s newsroom.

What can others learn from this project?

The story focuses on the concentration of listings by a limited number of users that provide services that compete with those previously offered exclusively by hotels. Additionally, although the legality of Airbnb’s is a topic of discussion all over the world, the platform’s operations adapt to every country its present, presenting specific challenges for both the state and the application. The article therefore approaches those particularities in Brazil and the conclusions address the limitations of Brazilian’s regulations, which are yet to adapt to contemporary types of businesses.

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