Airbnb's mega hosts are turning it into just another travel booking site
With the increasing number of Airbnb's mega hosts and their listings, the roots of sharing houses are changing. Airbnb has long enabled a grey area in between private room rental and commercial hotels.
With hundreds of listings and major corporate backers, a new breed of Airbnb host is changing the fundamentals of the service.
Of Airbnb's many hosts, Jan stands out.
Jan is a busy man, or woman. The Airbnb host has 1,083 properties listed on the site, from Fiji to the Ozarks. More than 760 reviews have been written about the properties, and they're generally very positive.
It suggests Jan is more than just your typical host, renting out a spare room or second home for extra cash. And there are many more like him. Or her. They're the faces of a changing Airbnb — one that's moving away from its home-sharing roots and embracing the commercial hospitality industry.
The tools are now being used by hotel companies, property managers, and a new breed of entrepreneurs to market their available properties, just like they do on sites like Expedia, Booking.com, and TripAdvisor.
The results speak for themselves. Just 10% of property managers in the US used Airbnb in 2012, estimates Douglas Quinby, a senior vice president at travel researcher Phocuswright. That rate is now closer to 50%, he believes.
Jan's listings "are in fact managed by one of our owners," a company spokeswoman told BuzzFeed News, referring to the timeshare owners whose investments entitle them to a given number of nights at the company's properties each year. "We have noticed owners opting to utilize their ownership to pursue speculative listings/advertisements," the spokeswoman said.
Resort settings and hotel rooms are not the home-sharing that Airbnb's identity is built on, but this professionally managed corner of its ecosystem is quickly expanding as the company — which expects to make $2.8 billion in revenue this year — stretches far beyond its crash-in-a-spare-bedroom persona.
According to Airbnb spokesman Nick Papas, vacation rental companies, corporate housing providers and even some hotels are now using Airbnb to market their rooms. But "the overwhelming majority of hosts have one listing and occasionally share their space," he said. In some cities, Airbnb also has a policy prohibiting hosts from sharing listings at more than one address.
Quinby, from Phocuswright, has heard a variety of stories of commercial approaches to Airbnb hosting. "There are many hotels, lots of experimentation by the individual properties of some chains, and enterprising folks who take out long-term leases on multiple units and rent them out on Airbnb (which crosses into a very grey legal area)," he wrote in an email.
"Airbnb had a change. They created a team a few years ago to deal with property managers," Banczak said, in an effort to increase the supply of entire-home rentals, especially in vacation destinations like resorts and ski towns. "This is the next big thing in this space," he said.
The professionalization of Airbnb and the rise of its mega-hosts worries housing advocates, who say it further enables investors to turn scarce inner-city apartment buildings into virtual hotels.
Those concerns have been pounced on by Airbnb's many opponents. "They’ve made it easier to commercialize the operation, which makes it good for Airbnb but harmful for cities with acute housing shortages," said Austin Shafran, a spokesman for anti-Airbnb group Share Better, which is funded by a New York-based hotel workers union.
It also concerns some of the company's old-school hosts — regular people trying to make some cash from their spare bedroom. As Airbnb transforms, some worry they'll be left behind.
"If your first experience is a resort, and the next is my home, it’s not the same," said Alice Hershberger, who rents out a bedroom in her North Carolina home. She also worries it could affect her all-important guest reviews. "How is a guest supposed to score a hands-off management company with a full staff of labor, each trained to do a specific job perfectly the same way as a host who has to assume all those roles themselves?
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