Disclaimer: The topic of this post is the growth of Airbnb in Mexico City and its impact on the demographics of the city’s central zone. The conclusions presented here are drawn not from rigorous data analysis but rather from wild speculation based on our trips back and forth to the market and grocery store in the Colonia Roma neighborhood.
We have been dragging our ratty plastic market bag back and forth to Medellín market in Mexico City’s Colonia Roma for weekly food shopping since as far back as we can remember, which due to youthful excess only goes back to about the 1990s at this point. Outside of the recent boom in apartment building construction, the landscape didn’t change much over time, especially in the market: a demo heavily weighted toward middle aged neighborhood Janes kvetching about the skyrocketing price of chilacayote and what have you. But about three years or so ago, we began to notice an uptick in the number of young women of foreign appearance, many with yellow ponytails, along our customary route and in the market itself. The uptick has now turned into a veritable tsunami of foreign visitors in their early 20s, to the point where it seems unusual to hear Spanish spoken at the Sumesa grocery store on Av. Yucatán. What happened?
We pondered this. Maybe the bleak economies of Spain and France help explain what their guys are doing here. But what about the carefree post-collegiate funsters from the United States, who appear to make up a sizeable majority of the new wave? We know this is a tough town to make a living in; we don’t need to do any data gathering to corroborate that. Finally one day, as we slunk past a group of girls from Ohio sipping skinny macchiatos at a third-wave coffee bar, it struck us like a pesero running a red light: It must be Airbnb.
The rise of Colonia Roma as a magnet for all things arty, foodie and alternative probably goes back 10 years by now, bringing with it a certain affluence of foreign bohos from all over. The Hotel Condesa DF and a few bed & breakfasts cropped up in nearby Condesa, but really this area was not much of a hotel zone. Over on Alvaro Obregón we had the Hotel Milan (something like Mexico City’s answer to New York’s Chelsea), the Stanza and a handful of dodgy love motels, but the lodgings on offer didn’t seem to be keeping up with the influx of indie bands and their fans keen to make the scene in Roma. Then, like a silent revolution, in 2013 Airbnb launched in Mexico.
Like Uber and Ecobici, Airbnb began tentatively in Mexico but is now really taking off. A recent article in the newspaper Reforma reports that over 20,000 properties in Mexico are now offered through the site, 3,500 of which are located in Mexico City. The story notes that the number of Mexican properties on offer since the 2013 launch has grown by an average 100% annually. More concretely for us, friends who used to scramble for rooms at the Milan when they came to town now stay at Airbnb apartments. For mobile technology-dependent young people who in prior eras would have stayed at the scrubby budget hotels downtown, Airbnb now puts them at the center of hipsterville with oh so much more cachet, a cheap enough tab and WiFi to boot.
Much like Uber in the transportation market, Airbnb is plowing through untested regulatory waters, and the future is not completely guaranteed. The company’s rapid growth has already sparked legal challenges in cities such as New York, San Francisco, Barcelona, Berlin and others. In Mexico, traditional hotel industry officials have issued statements opposing Airbnb as risky to users and equating the system to unlawful street vendors. As far as we are aware, however, local hoteliers have not yet resorted to smashing Airbnb property windows with bats, as the taxi drivers have done to Uber vehicles. Mexico City was quick to regulate Uber though, and the service now operates legally in the city, so a regulatory framework for Airbnb may not be far off as well. Either way, from the looks of it the people have spoken (or texted), and we expect the number of golden ponytails streaming stardust down Orizaba street in Colonia Roma to trend upward going forward.