Airbnb went deep while Booking Holdings went wide in terms of product development in 2021. Airbnb assuredly will get back to broadening its product line, if not in 2022, then later.
Dennis' Online Travel Briefing
Editor’s Note: Every Wednesday, Executive Editor and online travel rockstar Dennis Schaal will bring readers exclusive reporting and insight into the business of online travel and digital booking, and how this sector has an impact across the travel industry.
Online Travel This Week
While Airbnb was largely heads-down focusing on its core stays business in 2021, rival Booking Holdings expanded its product portfolio in flights and tours and activities.
1. Airbnb Expanded Listings But Had No Material Experiences Revenue
With its largest marketing campaigns in five years carried out in 2021, Airbnb expanded its active listings 6 percent year-over-to 6 million, the company said. Listings include those for stays and experiences, but not for its Hotel Tonight brand. Although Airbnb earns host fees from its experiences listings, the company said, “substantially all of our revenue comes from stays booked on our platform.”
Airbnb was clearly focused on its core stays product throughout the year, but that was not the same at Booking Holdings.
2. Booking.com Expanded Its Flights and Tours and Activities Businesses
Booking.com’s property numbers, including hotels and homes, increased a nominal 1.1 percent in 2021 to 2.4 million, parent Booking Holdings stated.
It’s tough to compare Airbnb’s 6 million “listings” to Booking.com’s 2.4 million “properties,” but clearly Airbnb’s count grew faster because of its marketing campaigns, and greater exposure to high travel demand regions such as the United States. But while Airbnb dug deeper into stays, Booking Holdings used 2021 to expand its product portfolio.
Booking.com expanded its flight offering to 34 markets in 2021, after having officially launching flights in the third quarter of 2020. Booking Holdings has a pending acquisition of eTraveli Group to bolster its flights’ offering. At the same time, Booking.com expanded its tours and activities offering to 840 cities in 2021, up from 140 a year earlier, and its Rentalcars.com taxi and black car services jumped 32 percent to 1,450 airports.
Booking.com also added a fintech unit in 2021, although its operations were not financially material.
3. Airbnb Was Hiring Again in 2021 and Booking Holdings Wasn’t
Both Airbnb and Booking Holdings sheared off around 25 percent of their workforces in 2020 because of the pandemic, but in 2021 Airbnb added back 535 employees, increasing its ranks 9.5 percent to 6,132 workers. At the same time, Booking Holdings didn’t increase its employee ranks in 2021, and had 20,300 employees.
An interesting side note: Although 48 percent of Bookings’ employees are located in Europe, 32 percent in Asia-Pacific and 18 percent in North America, just 2 percent are located in the rest of the world, meaning places such as Latin America, the Middle East and Africa.
4. Airbnb Expanded Its Outsourced Customer Support
By all accounts, Airbnb’s outsourced community support team, which it relies on to deal with guest and host service issues, took a wallop in 2020 because of the pandemic. But in 2021, Airbnb’s number of third-party community support partners rose 14 percent to 8,700. In 2022, Booking Holdings took steps to further outsource a big chunk of its customer support.
5. Half of Airbnb and Booking’s Employees Are Women
Airbnb said 48 percent of its global employees were women in 2021, and Booking’s number was 50 percent. Booking said in 2021, 23 percent of its technology positions were filled by women as well as 31 percent of its leadership ranks, including senior leadership and “one to four levels below the chief executive officer of each brand.”
Booking didn’t disclose the percentage of minorities in its ranks — as Airbnb did for the U.S. — but said it is committed to pay equity and carries out studies to analyze its pay equity marks every other year. Meanwhile, Airbnb said in 2021, 14 percent of its U.S. workforce was “underrepresented minority populations.”
6. Are Airbnb Employees Far More Productive Than Booking’s?
If you calculate each company’s revenue per employee in 2021, then Airbnb’s were much more productive than Booking’s — $977,000 for Airbnb versus $542,000 at Booking.
However, this comparison may be unfair — it doesn’t consider outsourced operations, for example. A cynic might say perhaps all of that stock-based compensation expense that Airbnb had on the books in 2021, $899 million excluding any related to restructuring, versus $370 million at the more established Booking Holdings, was an effective incentive.
7. Airbnb Became a More U.S.-Focused Company
This is not a big shock because parts of Europe and Asia-Pacific were shut down for travel during the pandemic, but Airbnb has become a much more U.S.-focused company in terms of revenue generation over the past two years.
About half of Airbnb’s total revenue was U.S.-based in 2021 versus 37 percent in 2019.
8. Airbnb’s Regulatory Risk May Be Manageable
In terms, of dealing with the regulatory pushback that Airbnb constantly has to deal with — and could increase as the backlash from communities rises — Airbnb stated that in 2021 none of its top 10 cities generated more than 1 percent of its total revenue when subtracting incentives paid to hosts and cancellations.
9. Will Airbnb Employees Become Tethered in 2022?
While Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky has argued that millions of people have become untethered to offices, helping to blur distinctions between working, traveling, and living, Airbnb has extended the work from home option to employees around the world, except in China, until September 1, 2022.
Perhaps in September, therefore, they will be required to return to the office in some form, although it is possible that there would be some flexibility built in.
10. Brand Marketing Commitments
Airbnb emphasized brand marketing in a couple of advertising campaigns in 2021, and as of December 31, 2021, it had $268 million in brand marketing commitment of less than a year. So it appears as though there will be plenty of brand marketing in 2022.
11. Airbnb Is Further Along in Climate Change Pledges Than Booking
In November 2021, Airbnb pledged that by 2030 it would be operating as a net zero company when it comes to climate change. Booking Holdings said in its report that the company is “moving towards setting ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) goals.”
12. Hotel Tonight Executives Will Be Staying On for Awhile
Some $12.3 million in stock awards were not included in the purchase price ($2.9 million were) when Airbnb acquired Hotel Tonight in 2019.
“These awards, which are subject to the recipients’ continued service with the Company, will be recognized ratably as stock-based compensation expense over the requisite service period,” Airbnb said in its most recent 10-K report.
It hasn’t been disclosed what that “requisite service period is,” but it looks like top Hotel Tonight executives will be working for Airbnb for a period.
Free Daily Newsletter
Sign up for the most popular Skift daily download of news, happening, and headlines in the travel world