France Is About To Waste A Ton Of Money Trying To Build Its Own Airbnb

from the french-for-boondoggle dept

It’s no secret that the French government seems to hate big internet companies. It’s spent years attacking them from basically every angle — they allow too much piracy, they don’t protect privacy, they protect privacy too much, they don’t censor enough, they censor too much. Often it really seems like the issue is that these companies are not French companies.

But, really, can you think of any truly successful internet company that started in France? There are a few local to France, but has any really expanded beyond French borders?

So, it’s kind of hilarious that after years and years of attacking various internet companies, France now thinks that the government can build its own competitor to Airbnb:

The French government will join forces with the tourism industry to build an Internet site aimed winning back customers from U.S. online travel giants such as Airbnb Inc. and Booking Holdings Inc.

The initiative is part of government-led stimulus package to revive tourism in one of the world?s top destinations as hotels, restaurants, theme parks as well as travel sites and tour operators are among the hardest hits by lockdowns and restrictions to fight the global coronavirus pandemic.

Of course, as Alec Stapp rightly points out, we’ve been down this path before with France, a decade and a half ago when they tried to build a Google competitor called Quaero. Don’t remember Quaero? It was announced with great fanfare as a pan-EU project (led by France, of course) to create a EU-focused competitor to Google, modeled after the EU’s (more successful) attempt to build a Boeing competitor in Airbus. But, from the very start, it was so obvious that Quaero had no chance (we jokingly said that the name “was French for boondoggle”). Within a few years it was clear that it was just a way for French companies to siphon off free money from the French government without ever building anything useful.

It’s not difficult to predict that this “Airbnb” competitor will be more of the same — especially when you combine the internet-illiterate French government with the legacy hospitality industry that always seems more focused on attacking Airbnb than on engaging in any actual innovation.

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Companies: airbnb, quaero

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Comments on “France Is About To Waste A Ton Of Money Trying To Build Its Own Airbnb”

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Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re:

"Handbrake was originally developed in France."

I’m somehow not too surprised that a lot of DRM circumvention tools and other enablers were built by french citizens. They have centuries worth of tradition in looping around the various insane and restrictive laws their government (whether king, committee, or parliament) keeps making.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

"There would first have to be a successful French product."

Manifestly unfair. There are several centuries-old french inventions which are both successful and appreciated.

And through the ages french citizens have proven VERY inventive when it comes to building tools which allow them to bypass their government. Some of which are gratefully employed elsewhere as well.

Koby (profile) says:


I recall the United States government wasting a lot of money on a healthcare exchange website, losing several billion dollars to get it up and running. So even the U.S. couldn’t build a website on time and on budget. When there’s noone in the government to be held personally responsible for wasting a lot of money, taxpayer funds almost always get flushed down the toilet.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Obamacare

even the U.S. couldn’t build a website on time and on budget

You say that like if anyone can do it it should be the US. I disagree. The US has proven time and again that it cannot handle even the simplest of projects. Very few other governments are any better but implying that the US is more capable than other governments is unsupported by the evidence.

Koby (profile) says:

Re: Re: Obamacare

You say that like if anyone can do it it should be the US

I’m not trying so say this as a putdown of other countries. Rather, I’m hard pressed to think of other nations, outside of a small handful in eastern asia, that might have access to a similar level of technical expertise and consulting.

The fed and the states had access to a number of prominent tech companies, ones who have successfully developed websites and back end systems for private companies. Having access to such resources would obviously seem to decrease the chances of the project ending in a massive blunder. Yet despite those partnerships, it still happened.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Obamacare

Remember the methodology the US Government uses for procurement. First they make a statement, usually over long and terribly unclear and then ask for bids. Then they pick the lowest bid. The third part is how they then go about meddling in the project process by changing their minds about what the end result should do/accomplish/look like/feature/change funding/change dates, etc..

It is not that Americans don’t have capability or technological expertise, it is that the Government has a really poor methodology for running projects, and rarely misses an opportunity to spend money in the most inappropriate manners.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Obamacare

It is a very rare organization of any sort which allows itself to destroyed period. They get outnumbered by those that do fairly quickly.

Complicating matters is "reincarnation" of organizations. The March of Dimes thankfully had to change their goal from domestic polio treatment after the vaccine solved that problem.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Obamacare

"So only the U.S. couldn’t build a website on time and on budget."

Works fine here in europe. I’m afraid that says more about the US ability to handle infrastructure than it does about the difficulty of the project.

"When there’s noone in the government to be held personally responsible for wasting a lot of money…"

That’s a huge problem in any republic with insufficient oversight, yes. It can tolerate almost any amount of public dissent.
One advantage of direct democracy is that a single journalist can topple your reelection if it turns out being an idiot with the public purse fell on your party. US politicians don’t have to be that wary.

Anonymous Coward says:

I guess Mike doesn’t own a car, so doesn’t need tires and has never heard of Michelin, isn’t into the military/industrial complex (and doesn’t take trains) so has never heard of Thales, doesn’t each yogurt, so has never heard of Danone, doesn’t associate with women and is too old-school to use product himself, so has never heard of l’Oreal, doesn’t bank so has never heard of PNB-paribas.

Face it, France has produced plenty of successful international companies, if rarely as successful as the biggest American multi-nationals. Suggesting otherwise is just a low, and rather nasty, piece of American bigotry, which Mr. Masnick is usually better than.

That said, the French government is rather prone to anti-world stupidity (heck, they even once tried to invent a French alternative to the internet). Fortunately such silly French governmental efforts usually fail abysmally to their great and very public embarrassment.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

There are other, better tire brands than Michelin. Have never heard of Thales. Don’t eat Danone because there are much better brands. l’Oreal isn’t very good either. Never heard of PNB-paribas.

I will assume that these companies enjoy some level of success and can agree that at least a few of them are international. But, as the previous poster said, none of these are internet companies. They’re also not great brands, so…

Yeah. France will forever be the "also ran" it has always been despite their tantrums and probably due to their corruption.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Anything that may help close that horrible company down is fine.

William Roper: “So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law!”

Sir Thomas More: “Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?”

William Roper: “Yes, I’d cut down every law in England to do that!”

Sir Thomas More: “Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned ’round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man’s laws, not God’s! And if you cut them down, and you’re just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake!”

Sameer katoch (user link) says:


Remember the methodology the US Government uses for procurement. First they make a statement, usually over long and terribly unclear and then ask for bids. Then they pick the lowest bid. The third part is how they then go about meddling in the project process by changing their minds about what the end result should do/accomplish/look like/feature/change funding/change dates, etc..

Anonymous Coward says:

What they should really be doing

The sad thing is that government regulatory frameworks could actually be useful for Air B&B to try to balance the utility with the externalities and make the complex legal system accessible in the context. Currently regulations are essentially impossible to for them to compute and comply with – there isn’t say a national real estate ID or subcode which may be used to determine laws to allow for reasonable good faith compliance. The kind that can say "We are sorry, we can’t allow you to rent this property on a short term lease – it has already been rented the maximium 15 days allowed by zoning." to try to allow increased utilization of housing without displacing long term rental housing in the area.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Museum of French Failure - Guide says:

Hello, and Welcome to the museum of french failures.

You see, french failures are an integral branch of french history. The history is always the same : Rich people coming from grandes écoles decides that they should do something "better than the americans" and so decide to create something out of old and venerable companies, largely furloughed by public funds. Because they do not understand how the market works and are largely unaffected by their failure, their practice continues unimpeded to this very day.

To your left, is the Thomson MO5, made as a competitor to Apple II. It didn’t have any success outside of french schools, which were forced to use them to teach coding to kids. It was already technologically outdated when it was out.

On your right, is a french Minitel. This X.25 terminal was made available for free and allowed the french to order train tickets or look up the yellow pages over a phone line at a hefty price-per-minute. What ? like the internet you say ? but of course not ! The internet was doomed to fail, of course ! it didn’t have support for online payment and couldn’t scale as efficiently as the centralized minitel. While it was successful, it delayed the deployment of the Internet in france.

Continuing to your left, is RSE, the Atos project whose aim was to compete with e-mail in the enterprise. Ah, those were the days ! But of course, e-mail prevailed.

To your right, is Numergy and Cloudwatt, two successors of the Andromède projects. All of them were created with one intention: competing with AWS. While Andromède predates the success that OVH and Gandi are, they were never considered during the Numergy and Cloudwatt project. Why ? because their CEO isn’t one of us ! Why would we trade with this school dropout immigrant or this former phreaker instead of a respectable énarque from a rich family which doesn’t know how to use a computer ? Let’s not waste our time with this technical stuff and make a lot of bad powerpoints instead.

If we continue down the corridor, you can see this project over here, GeoPortail. It was launched shortly after Google Earth, after the french found out they had satellite imagery of their country the whole time. In the end, their image resolution was worse than Google, and it was mostly limited to France. While it still exist, it was largely forgotten.

Over here, you can see Quaero and Qwant. You may have heard of Quaero, but have you heard of Qwant ? This new search engine was originally doomed to fail until the Snowden revelations, when they started marketing themselves as a privacy-respecting search engine that basically mostly displays Bing results. While it should have failed years ago, it is still surviving thanks to public funds.

On your right, you can see Deezer, the french competitor to Spotify and Apple Music. After endless negotiations with the french music corporations, it is currently surviving thanks to his catalogue of mostly french artists (rappers, mostly), which are still popular in france.

Should you continue to this aisle, you can see Paylib. As Paypal grew in popularity, French banks decided that they should have a share of it, so they created… Paylib ! Of course, french bank don’t know english very well, so didn’t understand the name "Paypal", or that it could be used to pay directly to a friend or a private person with a small percent fee, with enterprise plans to reduce them. Paylib was reserved from customer to company payments, with prices mirroring typical credit card processing costs, i.e. hefty flat price + per transaction costs, which were inaccessible for most small companies.

Next up is Priceminister, the french competitor to Ebay. Of course, it suffered from even worse customer experience, plagued with counterfeits, scams and credit card fraud.

And to conclude, here is Dailymotion, the french competitor to Youtube. While it was off to a good start, it became quickly irrelevant.

And this is the end of this tour. Probably in the next few years, this tour will be expanded with more topics to come, such as :

  • StopCovid19, the centralized french contact tracing application which isn’t out yet, but will probably be a failure, as it begs for apple and google to relax their restrictions on bluetooth.
  • Salto, a soon to be announced Netflix competitor. Featuring old french TV shows and cheap french movies that nobody wants !

Be sure to come back here soon ! And mind the guide !

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