More specifically it gives the consumer an opportunity to rent something for a given period of time rather than having to own it outright.
There are countless websites that hook up buyers and sellers to be able to have use of someone else's car, lawnmower, clothes, pets, even leftover food.
The benefit for the seller or more aptly the lessor, is when their object is sitting idle, why not make a little money letting someone rent it for a few hours.
The buyer (lessee) benefits by leveraging the use of something only when they need it rather than tying up their money by having to purchase it.
The one sector that is even more ambitious in the sharing economy is people renting out a spare room for a short duration to a traveler. Again, the homeowner gets some pocket money for an otherwise idle bedroom or even just a sofa, and the traveler is able to stay in an accommodation, that is cheaper than a hotel. Furthermore, the traveler gets the benefit of staying in a residential neighborhood of a city, whereas in a hotel, city zoning and such, are in a commercial area of town.
The traveler gets more of a local experience meeting interesting people, getting the inside scoop of what areas of town to explore, whether they be restaurants, parks, clubs, museums,etc..
Even the amenities provided in a private home are often superior to a hotel. For example, full use of the kitchen or at least the fridge and their dishes.
This form of sharing isn't without its critics. The hotel lobby is very strong in certain cities, such as Las Vegas, San Francisco and New York. All those cities have banned sites like Airbnb, citing this underground economy affects the existing rental supply. The only legal way around this for the homeowner is to rent their room for a minimum of 30 days, which kind of defeats the purpose.
Airbnb screens all potential users with background and credit checks on both ends, and the money isn't released to the 'landlord' until the guest has stayed one night. The site relies on customer reviews to rate both the accommodation and the people involved in the transaction.
Granted this form of accommodation isn't for everybody, as some will still prefer the hotel experience,since it is regulated and may offer amenities important to a traveler whether that be the pool, exercise room or room service.
As municipalities start to see declining tax revenue from room taxes collected on hotels, expect that Airbnb and similar websites,will force homeowners in a given locale to collect a room tax and possibly require them to be licensed.
This is an example of where the law is behind a new business sector.
The peer to peer economy is not going to disappear anytime soon ,but rather grow by leaps and bounds. The opportunities for both parties are to big to pass up. The