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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Filed Under: france, hotels, internet, short term rentals, startups
Companies: airbnb, quaero


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  1. identicon
    Museum of French Failure - Guide, 21 May 2020 @ 4:32am

    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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