Which is the biggest, baddest company offering alternative accommodations?

It has been hard to tell because Airbnb is a private company and its largest competitor, Booking Holdings, didn’t break out its sales from vacation home and apartment rentals — until now.

Booking Holdings made a series of first-ever disclosures about its alternative accommodations business in tandem with the release of its fourth quarter and full-year 2018 earnings Wednesday. Among them, Booking reported that in the third quarter, it notched “over $1 billion” in revenue from its homesharing business, including vacation homes, apartments, and unique properties that aren’t hotels.

By comparison, Airbnb disclosed in November that its own third quarter revenue was “substantially over” $1 billion. Airbnb’s revenue, though, likely also includes boutique hotels and experiences, for example.

For practical purposes, since it is difficult to verify either claim, let’s call it a draw.

[Update: Skift Research’s Rebecca Stone estimated that Airbnb did about $4.4 billion in revenue in 2018, and about 99 percent of it came from alternative accommodations.]

Airbnb has long been considered to be the clear leader in alternative accommodations, and perhaps it still is. But the race, in terms of revenue, at least, is certainly a lot closer than is commonly appreciated.

Booking also revealed that it generated $2.8 billion in alternative accommodations revenue in 2018, accounting for 20 percent of the company’s overall revenue, and that the business is “nicely profitable.”

Officials said that its growth in alternative accommodations revenue was “growing faster than the company’s consolidated growth rate,” but wouldn’t specify the percentage increase that the $2.8 billion in revenue represented. Booking’s total revenue jumped 17 percent to $14.5 billion in 2018.

Booking also said its reported listings of homes and apartments in 2018 jumped 18 percent to 5.7 million in 2018 “more than any other player.” Airbnb.com claims more than 5 million listings.

Booking, which has brands including Booking.com, Priceline.com, Agoda, Kayak, and OpenTable, for example, has its core business in European hotels. But it said Wednesday that “40 percent of Booking.com’s active customer base booked an alternative accommodation property at some point within the past 12 months … ”

The new disclosures are geared to give investors and other stakeholders more insight into Booking’s footprint in alternative accommodations, and it would be a valuable set of metrics especially if Airbnb decides to mount an initial public offering, as many observers expect.

CEO Glenn Fogel said the company is focusing on increasing its roster of single homes for rent, particularly in beach and ski locations, in the United States.  It is also putting increased investments into Booking.com payment system, which enables vacation rental owners to avoid credit card payments in favor of prepayments using the merchant model.

In the fourth quarter, Booking’s net income was $646 million, taking into account $474 million of losses tied to stock investments as required by accounting changes. Fourth quarter revenue grew 16 percent to $3.2 billion.

The company said it would step up its investments in brand marketing, merchandising and  personnel in 2019, which would negatively impact growth in earnings before taxes, debt and amortization.

CEO Fogel said Europe, which is the home of Booking’s core business, is experiencing a slowdown, exacerbated by the uncertainty over Brexit, the U.S.-China trade war talk, and factors such as the yellow vest protests in France.

Photo Credit: Booking Holdings said 40 percent of its active customers booking an alternative accommodation over the last 12 months. Booking.com