The International Olympic Committee has defended its new “landmark” £385m sponsorship deal with Airbnb, as the American company joined big names like Coco-Cola and Visa among the IOC’s 14 major partners ahead of next summer’s 2020 Games in Tokyo.
The IOC president Thomas Bach unveiled the new agreement alongside Airbnb co-founder Joe Gebbia in London on Monday. The sponsorship will cover Tokyo and the next four summer and winter Olympics which follow in Beijing, Paris, Milan and Los Angeles, running until 2028.
Questioned on the relevance of the partnership to the Games, Bach said Airbnb would not replace the Olympic village, which contains “the Olympic spirit”, but would provide thousands of visitors and officials with somewhere to stay, reducing the need for host cities to invest in new hotels and helping to meet the IOC’s pledge to make the Olympics more sustainable, although it was unclear how Airbnb’s role would be substantially different to previous Games.
Included in the agreement is free accommodation for Olympic athletes in a “bonus” pool worth a total of £28m which can be used for training and competition purposes. “This will be provided to the athletes whenever the travel, outside the Games,” said Bach. “So if they want to go training in Trinidad and Tobago, for example, they can use this bonus.”
The IOC has come under scrutiny over its own lavish accommodation demands in the past and the organisation’s penchant for the high life. Last year a leaked document revealed requests to an Oslo bidding committee which stipulated IOC chiefs receive a cocktail reception with the Norwegian royal family, exclusive road routes around the capital and priority treatment at hotels and airports.
Asked whether he and his IOC colleagues would be using Airbnb accommodation in Tokyo, Bach replied: “It would be difficult to organise if we are all in very different locations, so we will find accommodation which will meet our working needs. We have hundreds of IOC employees, and we will need to meet with the local organising committee every day.”
It is Airbnb’s first partnership with a global sporting event. The company is expected to go public next year, and could do with the reputational boost that seems to come with the famous Olympic rings after a wave of recent scandals, from online scams to a deadly shooting in Gebbia's home city of San Francisco.
Gebbia, who set up the company with a friend in 2008 after making money from business tourists staying on airbeds on their apartment floor in the Californian city, said the company will unveil a “guest guarantee” to help mitigate late cancellations which have plagued the business model. He added: “We have a pledge that 100 per cent of listings will be verified by next summer. We will have teams on the ground [in Tokyo] to check listings are what they say they are.”
Airbnb says 85,000 visitors to the Rio Olympics in 2016 used the company, generating a total of $100m in revenue for accommodation hosts. Asked what Airbnb stands to benefit from sponsoring the Olympics, Gebbia said: “It is an opportunity for us to activate new hosts across the next five Olympic cities over the next nine years.”
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