Instead of hailing a cab, you open an app on your smartphone. A car arrives within minutes and you’re off to your destination for the night.
Instead of a hotel, you arrive on a farm in rural, western Virginia, booked via a website. There’s a cabin with hardwood floors, a four-pronged bathtub and a queen-size bed where you sleep for the night.
Eight years after these services started in 2008, Airbnb and Uber are two of the largest marketplace platforms in the “sharing economy,” a form of peer-to-peer commerce that has enabled exchanges of goods and services directly between individuals, not corporations. PricewaterhouseCoopers estimates the sharing economy will generate $335 billion in revenue by 2025. Venture capitalists value Airbnb at more than $25 billion, making it the largest company in the lodging industry. And Uber is worth $62.5 billion, according to the New York Times, making it the world’s most valuable private start-up.
In Lexington and Rockbridge County, Airbnb is proving to be a formidable alternative accommodation, especially on busy weekends at the area’s three universities. And now, state and local governments are starting to consider regulations that might change the lodging landscape.
“The sharing economy will generate $335 billion in revenue by 2025.”
Uber is in cities and towns only 40 miles away, but it has yet to arrive in Lexington. Still, one Rockbridge County resident treks to Charlottesville on weekends to drive his own car and supplement his income.
On a smaller scale, local artists find sharing sites that allow them to reach customers around the world. And one local university invites residents to share bicycles.
What makes the Rockbridge County area’s sharing economy different? Interviews with local officials, property owners, artists, and economists shed light on the current state of the sharing economy and what it might mean for established businesses.