Airbnb is on a path toward spending as much as $2 billion in sales and marketing in 2019. When you consider that Airbnb will likely have to start spending more with Google as it adds more hotels onto its platform, then the company's supposed competitive advantage over Booking Holdings and Expedia Group on that front appears a little less attractive.
With Airbnb on the road to going public in 2020, the company has positioned itself as much different that loss-generating Uber, and those big-Google-spending online travel companies, Booking Holdings and Expedia Group.
But new reporting on Airbnb’s first quarter of 2019 performance at the least means Airbnb will have some explaining to do on that road to becoming a public company.
The Information reported that Airbnb’s losses doubled to $306 million in the seasonally slow first quarter, and the company’s sales and marketing spend rose 58 percent to $367 million.
In response, Airbnb stated: “We can’t comment on the figures, but 2019 is a big investment year in support of our hosts and guests.”
Airbnb is privately held so we don’t have a full view into the company’s financial performance. Skift already reported that Airbnb was profitable in 2018, beat Expedia in room nights in the first three months of 2019, and is on the road toward a direct listing in the public markets next year. Airbnb disclosed that it did more than $1 billion in revenue in the second quarter of 2019, although it revealed scant other financial information.
So the new reporting shows that Airbnb managed to eke out a profit in 2018 despite notching a loss of around $150 million in the first quarter that year. One can surmise that Airbnb might be profitable in 2019 despite wracking up a more than $300 million loss in the first quarter.
[Update: A source familiar with Airbnb’s finances said the company has more than $3 billion in cash on hand, has access to a $1 billion credit line, and has been earnings positive since its early days.]
Airbnb presents itself as having a competitive advantage over online travel agency rivals Booking Holdings and Expedia Group, which collectively spend some $10 billion annually in marketing, much of it with Google.
And, indeed, Airbnb attracts a considerable higher amount of direct traffic to its website than does Booking Holdings. But the fact that Airbnb’s sales and marketing expenses rose 58 percent to $367 million in the first quarter shows that it is not immune to soaring marketing expenses.
Of course, Airbnb acknowledged that 2019 is an investment years for hosts and guests, and it isn’t known how much of these expenses went toward online marketing with Google and others.
One can guess from the $367 million in sales and marketing spend in the first quarter that Airbnb is on a path toward shelling out at least $2 billion in sales and marketing in 2019. That’s still not in the same conversation with what Expedia and Booking Holdings will spend — but it is consequential nonetheless.
Update: The story has been updated with a comment from a source familiar with Airbnb’s financials.
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Photo credit: New reporting on Airbnb suggests its finances might not be as neat and tidy as it hopes to present ahead going public, with operating losses doubling in the first quarter. Lulu Yilun Chen / Bloomberg