Hosts may come and go on Airbnb's global platform. But the fate of Airbnb's listings will depend much more on supply and demand than on grievances.
There has been much discussion among Airbnb hosts about exiting or boycotting the platform because of its unilateral decision in March to refund guests because of coronavirus-disrupted stays, but the home-sharing platform says it has more listings now — more than 7 million — than it did on January 1.
The topic came up Wednesday when Chris Lehane, Airbnb’s head of global policy and communications, discussed Airbnb’s announcement for Thursday that it partnered with 15 destination marketing organizations and charitable groups, from the U.S. National Park Park Foundation to Tourism KwaZulu-Natal and Wesgro in South Africa, to promote tourism recovery.
Lehane said he empathizes with hosts being upset with the refund policy, but in a survey 94 percent responded that they intended to remain on the platform.
Indeed, in a statement, Airbnb said “we have seen no material drop in listings on the platform …. Macroeconomic forces much larger than Airbnb and its host community are causing changes in the rental and housing market amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Following a backlash among hosts about Airbnb’s guest refund policy CEO Brian Chesky apologized, and the company set up a couple of funds to compensate hosts.
Urban Versus Non-Urban
A little more than a year ago, in March 2019, Airbnb claimed to have more than 6 million listings, and it said today that number climbed to more than 7 million. It’s possible, however, that some of these listings are not transactional, with some hosts around the world offering free or deeply discounted homes for medical staff and first responders.
[Update: Analytics firm Transparent found that Airbnb’s live listing numbers have been “pretty stable” at some 6.6 million since January, according to Jade Tinsley, Transparent’s head of marketing. Tinsley said the discrepancy with Airbnb’s more than 7 million figure could hinge on how Airbnb defines live listings “so it’s hard to contradict or confirm.”]
Lehane argued that Airbnb is a “resilient platform,” and that it molds itself to market conditions. Although Airbnb had its beginnings and even in recent years has been mostly an urban platform, Lehane said nearly 60 percent of its bookings in May have been to non-urban destinations compared with almost 45 percent a year earlier.
In addition, according to Airbnb, since 2018 it has had more domestic bookings around the world than people traveling across borders.
As part of its announcement Thursday, Airbnb said travelers are showing a penchant to journey within 200 miles of home, and such bookings rose from about one-third of all bookings in February to more than half in May. To reflect these changes, Airbnb is updating its app and homepages to emphasize discovery of local travel.
Destination Marketing Organizations
Airbnb announced marketing partnerships, in which it will promote local destinations, and share data insights, with the following groups: National Park Foundation; Discover Puerto Rico; Visit Florida; Visit North Carolina; Dubai Department of Tourism & Commerce Marketing; Visit Denmark; French Association of Rural Mayors; Hadong-gun in South Korea; Zhejiang Provincial Department of Culture and Tourism and the Guilin Bureau of Culture, Broadcasting, Television and Tourism, both in China; State of São Paulo in Brazil; Bermuda Tourism Authority; The Bahamas Ministry of Tourism and Aviation; and Tourism KwaZulu-Natal and Wesgro, both in South Africa.
Asked about the partnership, Brad Dean, CEO of Discover Puerto Rico, said: “Airbnb’s new partnership model is a timely effort to strengthen and expand partnerships with destination marketers as we all emerge from the worst travel crisis in history. For destinations like Puerto Rico, they have quickly become a huge part of the visitor economy, so aligning with those responsible for managing the destination brand is a savvy move.”
Tourism bodies in many destinations are dominated by hotel members who see Airbnb as a usurper.
Dean said Discover Puerto Rico avoided the “membership trap,” and invited representatives from every sector to be at the table.
“Picking winners or playing favorites hasn’t worked well for destination marketers and often serves to inhibit sensible marketing strategies,” Dean said. “We’re not immune to competitive rivalries within industry segments, such as hotels versus short-term rentals, or Uber versus taxis, but by offering everyone a seat at the table, we can stay focused on destination metrics and opportunities, rather than getting sidetracked on other issues that tend to hold us back.”
He said one advantage of the Airbnb partnership may be to open new lines of communications with property owners to get feedback about the guest experience.
Lehane of Airbnb said the company will soon mount a marketing campaign to promote partners’ destinations. Although Airbnb will use some “traditional media” and outdoor advertising, most of it will take place through Airbnb’s own channels.
Airbnb stated that from May 17 to June 6, its U.S. bookings were greater than the same period a year ago.
Tripadvisor published a white paper this week on expected stages in a travel recovery, and stated the company sees “clear signs of pent up consumer demand based on sentiment and search activity.”
But in a research note Monday, Evercore ISI’s Lee Horowitz and colleagues wrote that the global travel recovery, which has been driven by strength in North America, particularly for alternative accommodations, “has hit a near-term plateau.”
“Other regions like Europe have begun to display better recovery strength … while other products like OTAs (online travel agencies) airlines, metasearch properties, and tours and activities platforms have shown better relative performance through the start of June,” Horowitz said.
Speaking of North America, Horowitz argued that there will be a “long and challenging road ahead toward a full travel recovery.”
Note: Skift CEO Rafat Ali has a seat on Discover Puerto Rico’s advisory board.
Update: The story has been updated to include Transparent’s estimate of 6.6 million Airbnb live listing since January.
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Photo credit: An Airbnb guest in Mexico City. Airbnb said it has more listings in June 2020 — more than 7 million — than it did before the coronavirus pandemic. Adam Planos / Airbnb