Airbnb executives have talked about the company becoming a “superbrand of travel” and a new-age online travel agency as it mulled launching flights, debuted a tours and activities product, Trips, partnered with Resy on restaurant reservations, and started a campaign to add boutique hotels.
The company, which has said it would be ready to go public in 2019, may eventually broaden its offerings in a more full-service sort of way, but two developments in the last week or so show Airbnb may be focusing instead on vertical integration in terms of getting deeper into the property management space.
The Information reported Tuesday that Airbnb may lead a $75 million investment round into Lyric Hospitality, which manages multifamily apartment complexes, and rents units on a short-term basis on Airbnb, Booking.com, HomeAway, and other platforms. The San Francisco-based startup manages properties in more than a dozen U.S. cities, and has raised some $19 million to date, according to Crunchbase.
The deal could mesh nicely with Airbnb’s ambitions to be more of a solution for business travelers as these upscale properties would likely be a nice alternative to hotel stays for city-hopping road warriors.
The funding move, which apparently isn’t final, follows Airbnb’s agreement in mid-December to acquire a France-based property management company, Luckey Homes, for an undisclosed sum.
Both moves are potentially significant as the company attempts to expand its Airbnb Friendly Buildings Program, which is designed to enable large landlords to manage short-term rentals by their tenants and to professionalize the homesharing service.
Airbnb’s relationship with large landlords hasn’t always gone smoothly. Earlier this month, around the time Airbnb bought Luckey Homes, Airbnb settled a lawsuit in Miami filed by Apartment Investment and Management Co., which alleged that its tenants were violating their leases in renting on Airbnb and creating harmful conditions.
Property Management on the Agenda?
Airbnb isn’t talking much about the strategy behind its Luckey Homes purchase other than it being designed to scale solutions for hosts, and its potential investment in Lyric Hospitality. But both can be a precursor of Airbnb getting deeper into the property management space instead of being merely an online travel agency connecting hosts and guests.
These investments and being on the boards of these respective companies would provide Airbnb plenty of learnings about property management and may one day lead to Airbnb developing its own property management unit or brand. Airbnb’s participation with Sequoia Capital and others in a $75 million Series C funding round for The Wing, which owns co-working spaces set up for women, is another sign of Airbnb’s interest in potentially managing diverse property types that would blend well with homesharing.
Risks and Benefits
Airbnb’s potential strategy to dig deeper into property management would have benefits and risks. The advantages would revolve around learning the property management space and establishing new revenue streams while the risks could be in engendering the view among current property management partners that Airbnb has become more of a competitor and less of a neutral marketplace.
Asked about Airbnb’s emerging strategy as evidenced by the potential Lyric Hospitality funding and the Luckey Homes acquisition, Bianca Gaehweiler, a spokeswoman for Switzerland-based Interhome, a property management company, said: “Airbnb is a sales partner of Interhome. We do not interfere in the business activities of Airbnb. If the holiday home market continues to be driven by Airbnb’s strategy, we are pleased.”
Meanwhile, T.J. Clark, co-founder and CEO of property management company TurnKey Vacation Rentals, said he understands Airbnb’s reasoning.
“It makes sense for Airbnb, and presumably HomeAway, to enhance the consistency and hospitality they can provide to their travelers by providing services at the property level,” Clark said. “It also makes financial sense on two fronts: First, Airbnb may have an exclusive listing arrangement versus sharing bookings with other channels; and second, it provides a substantial opportunity to improve Airbnb’s economics, or take rate.”
In its broad outlines, Airbnb’s potential expansion into an adjacent sector within hospitality is nothing new in the annals of business. These types of integrations happen all the time in travel and in the broader business sector.
After all, airlines such as American and Lufthansa once owned global distribution systems; in 2000, distributor Amadeus acquired the travel agency group Vacation.com; Thomas Cook owns an airline and hotels; and Booking Holdings and TripAdvisor each bought tours and activities connectivity companies this year.
Each of these companies had to fight the optics that they would be biased against partners in favoring their in-house competitor brands. Such potential worries are premature for Airbnb, but they could become a factor if indeed the company uses this duo of relatively modest investments as a springboard into property management.
Affordable housing advocates assuredly will be critical of Airbnb’s potential funding of apartment complex manager Lyric Hospitality as in certain cities such relationships could contribute to housing shortages, rising rents, and gentrification to the detriment of longtime neighborhood residents.
Airbnb’s activities in the property management space will be seen as risky by some, but could help with its narrative about an expected initial public offering. It would arguably be a signal that the company is focusing on its core space, hospitality, instead of forays into flight booking and its current Experiences operation.
By some accounts, Airbnb has lost a ton of money on Experiences. And competitors, such as GetYourGuide, have argued that Airbnb Experiences will never scale if it doesn’t include more mainstream attractions, such as the Louvre and Vatican tours, for example.
Airbnb may still one day expand into other travel verticals such as flights, but it doesn’t appear to be an important priority for the moment. At the Skift Europe Forum in Berlin in April, Jeroen Merchiers, Airbnb’s managing director of Europe, Middle East, and Africa, told the audience “flights are not high on the radar right now.”
Instead, Airbnb is seemingly on a path to burrow deeper into hospitality and property management in a variety of ways.