Skift Take

The easier route for platforms to scale listings is to contract with property managers. But Airbnb thinks that the secret sauce is individual hosts.

Short-term rental veterans for years have said “professionalization” is key to industry expansion. But Airbnb believes that its individual hosts — and not professional property managers — is one of its biggest advantages over Vrbo and Booking.com.

Speaking at a Bernstein conference Thursday, Airbnb Chief Financial Officer Ellie Mertz said she thinks “there is a presumption that professional hosts provide better quality than individual hosts. And it’s not entirely proven out by the data.”

Mertz said individual hosts on Airbnb have higher ratings on average than professional hosts. She added that there is often a misunderstanding about the quality of hospitality that individual hosts can provide.

[Jay Carney, Airbnb’s global head of policy and communications, will be on stage next week at the Skift Short-Term Rental Summit in New York City discussing Airbnb’s take on regulatory trends. Evolve CEO Brian Egan will be there, too. See more details here about what to expect at the event.]

Airbnb defines individual hosts as those who don’t use property management software. Mertz said the majority of hosts on Airbnb are individuals and most of those only have one listing. [See chart below.]

Airbnb Versus Vrbo and Booking.com

The fact that a majority of Airbnb’s hosts are individuals is a competitive edge over Expedia’s Vrbo and Booking.com, said Mertz, adding that “what we see in the inventory of others is predominantly professionally managed [listings], and as a result, it’s predominantly cross-listed.”

In other words, she argued, individual hosts tend to have listings that are exclusive to Airbnb, while professional property managers regularly list on several sites. Mertz didn’t mention them specifically, but high-profile professional property managers include Vacasa, Sonder, Evolve, Awaze, and many more.

Mertz said Airbnb was built for individual hosts, but it welcomes professional hosts, too. The latter provide a minority of Airbnb’s listings but they make up “a significant portion” she said. They fill a supply gap, especially in regions where they are dominant, Mertz added.

Booking.com CEO Glenn Fogel has said many times that his company is focusing on adding professional hosts rather than individuals as the brand expands its short-term rental business in the U.S. It’s much easier when you can onboard a property manager with thousands of listings in one fell swoop rather than engaging in the more labor intensive method of adding individual hosts one at a time.

Mertz stated that Airbnb has an advantage over Vrbo — which focuses on whole homes — because Vrbo’s strength is in U.S. vacation rental markets while Airbnb has “everything under the rainbow in terms of type of listing.”

“When I look at that business,” she said, referring to Vrbo, it has just a “subsegment” of Airbnb’s supply, and Vrbo’s footprint “is relatively small scale.”

Vrbo and Booking.com didn’t respond immediately to requests for comment.

AirDNA: 70% of Airbnb Hosts Have 1 Listing

Analytics firm AirDNA found that at the end of 2023, 70% of Airbnb’s hosts — or 3.5 million of them — had only one listing on the platform.

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Tags: airbnb, airdna, awaze, booking holdings, booking.com, dwell, evolve, expedia, hosts, property managers, sonder, vacasa, very online, vrbo

Photo credit: The interior of an individually hosted Airbnb in Riverhead, New York in 2021. Dennis Schaal / Skift

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