How Airbnb sees itself matters, for many reasons it lists in its IPO documents. Fascinating read into the mind of a big disruptor in the global travel sector.
How Airbnb sees itself matters, not only for the future of the company but how markets and competitors react to such a globally disruptive force that has emerged out of nowhere in the last decade.
As Airbnb has filed its most detailed look at till-now-private company in its IPO documents, and as part of our ongoing coverage of the upcoming listing, we thought it is worth peeking into what Airbnb describes as its competition and compare that to what outside analysts have traditionally considered Airbnb and its competition.
Let’s start with what analysts and travel industry have considered its competition: traditional lodging players, as in hotel giants like Marriott, Hilton, IHG, Accor etc, which on the face of it seems like a logical one but only a surface level. But if you dig deeper, as our Skift Senior Research Senior Analyst Seth Borko did last month, you get a different and we believe a better picture of who Airbnb competes against: the online travel booking players like Booking, Expedia, Trip.com and others, all of whom have robust short-term rental offerings. AND it is a two-sided competition, both for hosts to list on their platform and for guests to book these listings.
Now let’s compare that to what Airbnb says in its S-1 filing; keep an eye on the order it lists the competitors, because that matters a lot: hotels only figure as #4 in its list of competitors.
“We operate in a highly competitive environment and we face significant competition in attracting hosts and guests.
Hosts. We compete to attract, engage, and retain hosts on our platform to list their spaces and experiences. Hosts have a range of options for listing their spaces and experiences, both online and offline. It is also common for hosts to cross-list their offerings. We compete for hosts based on many factors, including the volume of bookings generated by our guests; ease of use of our platform (including onboarding, community support, and payments); the service fees we charge; host protections such as our Host Protection Insurance, Experience Protection Insurance and Host Guarantee Program; and our brand. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, we have also competed based on our cancellation and extenuating circumstances policies.
Guests. We compete to attract, engage, and retain guests on our platform. Guests have a range of options to find and book spaces, hotel rooms, serviced apartments, and other accommodations and experiences, both online and offline. We compete for guests based on many factors, including unique inventory and availability of listings, the value and all-in cost of our offerings relative to other options, our brand, ease of use of our platform, the relevance and personalization of search results, the trust and safety of our platform, and community support. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, we have also competed based on the availability of inventory close to where guests live and in non-urban markets as well as the perceived safety and cleanliness of listings on our platform.
We believe that our competitors include:
- Online travel agencies (“OTAs”), such as Booking Holdings (including the brands Booking.com, KAYAK, Priceline.com, and Agoda.com); Expedia Group (including the brands Expedia, Vrbo, HomeAway, Hotels.com, Orbitz, and Travelocity); Trip.com Group (including the brands Ctrip.com, Trip.com, Qunar, Tongcheng-eLong, and SkyScanner); Meituan Dianping; Fliggy (a subsidiary of Alibaba) Despegar; MakeMyTrip; and other regional OTAs;
- Internet search engines, such as Google, including its travel search products; Baidu; and other regional search engines;
- Listing and meta search websites, such as TripAdvisor, Trivago, Mafengwo, AllTheRooms.com, and Craigslist;
- Hotel chains, such as Marriott, Hilton, Accor, Wyndham, InterContinental, OYO, and Huazhu, as well as boutique hotel chains and independent hotels;
- Chinese short-term rental competitors, such as Tujia, Meituan B&B, and Xiaozhu; and
- Online platforms offering experiences, such as Viator, GetYourGuide, Klook, Traveloka, and KKDay.
Our competitors are adopting aspects of our business model, which could affect our ability to differentiate our offerings from competitors. Increased competition could result in reduced demand for our platform from hosts and guests, slow our growth, and materially adversely affect our business, results of operations, and financial condition.
Many of our current and potential competitors enjoy substantial competitive advantages over us, such as greater name and brand recognition, longer operating histories, larger marketing budgets, and loyalty programs, as well as substantially greater financial, technical, and other resources. In addition, our current or potential competitors have access to larger user bases and/or inventory for accommodations, and may provide multiple travel products, including flights.
As a result, our competitors may be able to provide consumers with a better or more complete product experience and respond more quickly and effectively than we can to new or changing opportunities, technologies, standards, or host and guest requirements or preferences. The global travel industry has experienced significant consolidation, and we expect this trend may continue as companies attempt to strengthen or hold their market positions in a highly competitive industry. Consolidation amongst our competitors will give them increased scale and may enhance their capacity, abilities, and resources, and lower their cost structures. In addition, emerging start-ups may be able to innovate and focus on developing a new product or service faster than we can or may foresee consumer need for new offerings or technologies before us.
There are now numerous competing companies that offer homes for booking, which can be available on our platform, on competing platforms, and through direct booking sites. Some of these competitors also aggregate property listings obtained through various sources, including the websites of property managers. Some of our hosts have chosen to cross-list their properties, which reduces the availability of such properties on our platform. When properties are cross-listed, the price paid by guests on our platform may be or may appear to be less competitive for a number of reasons, including differences in fee structure and policies, which may cause guests to book through other services, which could materially adversely affect our business, results of operations, and financial condition. Certain property managers reach out to our hosts and guests to incentivize them to list or book directly with them and bypass our platform, and certain hosts may encourage transactions outside of our platform, which reduces the use of our platform and services.
Some of our competitors or potential competitors have more established or varied relationships with consumers than we do, and they could use these advantages in ways that could affect our competitive position, including by entering the travel and accommodations businesses. For example, some competitors or potential competitors are creating “super-apps” where consumers can use many online services without leaving that company’s app, e.g., in particular regions, such as Asia, where e-commerce transactions are conducted primarily through apps on mobile devices. If any of these platforms are successful in offering services similar to ours to consumers, or if we are unable to offer our services to consumers within these super-apps, our customer acquisition efforts could be less effective and our customer acquisition costs, including our brand and performance marketing expenses, could increase, any of which could materially adversely affect our business, results of operations, and financial condition.
We also face increasing competition from search engines including Google. How Google presents travel search results, and its promotion of its own travel meta-search services, such as Google Travel and Google Vacation Rental Ads, or similar actions from other search engines, and their practices concerning search rankings, could decrease our search traffic, increase traffic acquisition costs, and/or disintermediate our platform. These parties can also offer their own comprehensive travel planning and booking tools, or refer leads directly to suppliers, other favored partners, or themselves, which could also disintermediate our platform. In addition, if Google or Apple use their own mobile operating systems or app distribution channels to favor their own or other preferred travel service offerings, or impose policies that effectively disallow us to continue our full product offerings in those channels, it could materially adversely affect our ability to engage with hosts and guests who access our platform via mobile apps or search.”
Photo credit: A general view of Airbnb signage during Airbnb Open LA on November 17, 2016 in Los Angeles, California. Mike Windle/Getty Images / Airbnb