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HomeAway Suit Against Airbnb Is a Turning Point in Competition Over Vacation Rentals

@denschaal

Dec 27, 2013 1:00 pm

Skift Take

This lawsuit marks the fact that for HomeAway, Airbnb has now crossed a line — into HomeAway’s core resort destination markets. Gone is all the talk about the two companies addressing different markets. The two companies will now play, old-fashioned country hardball.

— Dennis Schaal

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Jorge Perez  / Flickr.com

Pictured is an Airbnb community "social tour' in Aix en Provence in March 2013. HomeAway is concerned about Airbnb's expansion into resort destinations such as Provence and Tuscany. Jorge Perez / Flickr.com


Will consumers really come to erroneously believe that HomeAway has acquired Airbnb, and that Airbnb “operates as part of HomeAway’s birdhouse-branded marketplace?”

Carl Shepherd, HomeAway’s chief strategy and development officer, argues in an exhibit [second embedded document below] to HomeAway’s trademark lawsuit against Airbnb that such a scenario is “likely” given HomeAway’s acquisition spree and Airbnb’s Birdhouse promotion.

“In light of HomeAway’s acquisitions of other companies in the online travel space, it is likely that customers would perceive the Birdhouse Promotion as an indicator that Airbnb has been acquired by HomeAway and operates as part of HomeAway’s birdhouse-branded marketplace,” Shepherd alleges in his declaration as part of the lawsuit.

But, beyond all the concern about the birdhouse promotion, birdhouse trademarks and a birdhouse-branded marketplace, what comes across in the lawsuit is that HomeAway is very concerned about the competitive threat from Airbnb as it expands from its traditional base of urban centers into HomeAway’s more profitable and core resort destination and vacation marketplaces.

HomeAway almost says as much in the lawsuit, stating “Airbnb’s recent attempts to expand its business into traditional vacation markets only exacerbates the already substantial harm to HomeAway.”

HomeAway Is Changing Its Tune About Airbnb

HomeAway CEO Brian Sharples has long argued that HomeAway and Airbnb address different markets, second homes in vacation destinations versus primary residences in major cities.

But, in the lawsuit, HomeAway sees it all differently now.

“Defendant and HomeAway target and provide services to an overlapping class of Travelers for their respective services, through overlapping channels of trade,” the HomeAway suit states. “On information and belief, Defendant, has long targeted the tenants in landlord owned apartments in major cities (such as New York, Paris, San Francisco, Berlin, etc.) as its major supplier of listings.

“However, Defendant [Airbnb] has recently increased its efforts to attract business in traditional vacation rental markets (such as the Gulf Coast, Rocky Mountains, Provence and Tuscany), in which HomeAway has long been well-established.”

Screen Shot 2013-12-27 at 11.28.23 AM (2)

This is at the heart of the suit. Airbnb is aggressively expanding into HomeAway’s resort destination turf, and now the gloves are coming off.

There are a couple of other interesting nuggets buried in the lawsuit and its exhibits:

Chesky Gets A HomeAway Tour From A Friend

HomeAway’s Carl Shepherd states in 2011 he personally gave “my friend Brian Chesky, the Chief Executive Officer of Defendant,” a tour of HomeAway headquarters, and that Chesky stopped “to admire the two-story, three-dimensional replica of the Birdhouse Mark that dominates the upper two stories of HomeAway’s headquarters” in Austin, Texas.

What was Chesky doing at HomeAway headquarters as late as 2011? Was there any merger and acquisition talk? Certainly the purpose wasn’t for any sort of bird-watching expedition. HomeAway declined to comment on the matter.

Real Estate, Eco-Tours and Travel Guides

HomeAway’s birdhouse mark registrations, in addition to relating to its vacation rental business, covers additional goods and services such as selling real estate, offering eco-tours, and providing travel guide and information services, as well as reviews of travel service providers.

Airbnb didn’t address the substance of the lawsuit, but released a statement:

“We seek to showcase both craftsmanship and the vast array of unique listings that are available on Airbnb in everything we do — from the design of our offices to our recent “Hello LA” and “Every Traveler Deserves a Home” campaigns. The campaign was designed to convey the creative and individual hospitality that Airbnb and its hosts celebrate every day. “Every Traveler Deserves a Home” expresses our love for the real travelers of the world.”

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