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04.17.17 | 11:30 am

Airbnb’s “Big Hotel” critics may be acting out of self-interest, but their concerns are legitimate

According to a new report in the New York Timesthe hotel industry has a grand plan to disrupt Airbnb's business, and it's been pretty effective. Recent accomplishments include prompting senators to call for an FTC investigation and lobbying New York lawmakers to impose steep fines on Airbnb hosts that flout short-term housing laws.

The Times report plays nicely into Airbnb's narrative that "Big Hotel" is the engine behind its fiercest critics. But while the hotel industry is certainly acting out of competitive fear, that doesn't mean the questions it's raising aren't legitimate. We should be asking how Airbnb ensures the safety of its users. And we should continue to track its effects on housing markets in cities like New York and Los Angeles. 

Yes, the majority of Airbnb hosts may be using the platform legitimately, but we don't know what effect even a small group of bad actors can have local housing markets, especially those with low vacancy rates. The hotel industry may have ulterior motives, but prompting regulators to consider the effects of a new type of industry—one that's growing as quickly as home-sharing—isn't such a bad thing.   

[Source photo: Flickr user Jonathan Haeber]

04.04.17 | 7:25 am

Check out Airbnb’s ad supporting same-sex marriage equality in Australia

The campaign calls for people to wear the "acceptance ring" until same-sex marriage is legalized in Australia, reports Business Insider.

03.22.17 | 1:25 pm

Airbnb says it already has more than 800 “Experiences” available

Last November Airbnb launched Experiences, a new way to book things like walking tours and cooking classes in places where you're traveling, or even in your hometown. Originally available only on mobile, the service started rolling out to Airbnb's web users today. The home-sharing company also shared a few details about how the feature is going so far.

Airbnb currently has more than 800 different Experiences available in the platform, which have been booked by users in more than 73 countries. Los Angeles, Tokyo, and Paris are the top-booked destinations on the platform, and London, L.A., and San Francisco have the most Experience hosts available. Airbnb says the service is a hit with around 91% of people who have booked an Experience giving it a five-star rating.

03.22.17 | 6:39 am

Airbnb has a new name in China: Aibiying

The rebranding is part of an effort to woo Chinese users as it doubles down in the country. Translated, "Aibiying" (爱彼迎) means "welcome each other with love." In addition to the name change, Airbnb (sorry, Aibiying) will bring its Trips experiences to the country, will triple the size of its Chinese workforce, and will double its investment in the local market, the company said in a blog post

Image: Airbnb

03.14.17 | 2:56 pm

Uber and Airbnb have a big data advantage—here’s how they use it

Sharing economy companies like Uber and Airbnb collect a lot of data, meaning they know a lot more about their markets than their customers do, researchers argue. I talked to experts about this imbalance of information, and what regulators can do to make the sharing economy more of a level playing field. Check out my story on Fast Company here.

02.23.17 | 11:24 am

Is Airbnb on an acquisition spree?

Late yesterday Airbnb closed on its acquisition of Tilt, a fintech startup for crowdfunding and peer-to-peer payments. Last week, it bought Canadian company Luxury Rentals and its portfolio of high-end properties. 

Those deals, along with Airbnb's recent foray into travel experiences with the launch of tour service Trips, point to the company's broadening ambitions. No longer content to offer accommodation alone, Airbnb is evolving into a full-fledged travel platform.

Will the acquisitions continue? Certainly Airbnb has the cash to make deals happen, projecting annual profits of $3 billion by 2020. We expect CEO Brian Chesky to be opportunistic about deals, while continuing to build new product features in-house.

[Photo: Airbnb] 

02.17.17 | 12:10 pm

Airbnb blasts “Big Hotel” for contradictory tax lobbying 

Airbnb is fighting back against the hotel industry with a new marketing effort. On its Airbnb Citizen's blog, the home-sharing unicorn now details the ways in which the hotel industry has contradicted itself by asking for Airbnb and its users to be taxed more heavily—only to then lobby against efforts to tax its own industry. Lobbyists for the hotel industry see proposals to tax Airbnb as legitimizing what they consider to be an illegal hotel business. 

The post is an effort to make Airbnb look like an underdog against Big Hotel. The reality, of course, is that Airbnb itself, estimated to be a $30 billion company, is one of the big guys too. It's also worth remembering that Airbnb has seriously ramped up its lobbying efforts of late, spending nearly half a million dollars on lobbying in 2016, almost double what it spent the year before.

02.16.17 | 3:19 pm

Airbnb officially acquires Canadian company Luxury Retreats

Airbnb said today it will acquire Montreal-based Luxury Retreats (a purchase that was rumored to be in the works). 

The acquisition is significant because it indicates Airbnb's interest in being more than just a site for affordable accommodations. Luxury Retreats offers fancy villas and homes that are used purely as getaways (not everyone likes staying in someone else's home). We already knew Airbnb wants to expand into a broader travel platform, but the Luxury Retreats buy shows it wants to make an up-market move a priority. Airbnb didn't disclose the terms of the deal, but it's rumored to be its biggest acquisition to date. 

02.15.17 | 9:22 am

Airbnb expects to generate $3.5 billion a year by 2020

Home rental unicorn Airbnb could be earning as much as $3.5 billion annually in the next three years, sources tell Forbes. Here are two extra tidbits from the report:

Airbnb spends shockingly little on overhead: no more than $300 million in total since it kicked up operations nine years ago.

• Airbnb earned $100 million in profit on $1.7 billion revenue last year. 

Read the full report here

01.27.17 | 2:07 pm

Airbnb may be profitable, but it continues to face hurdles 

The big news this week for Airbnb is that it hit profitability in mid-2016, according to Bloomberg. But the home-sharing site still faces a host of restrictions in cities ranging from New York to Barcelona—and most recently Oakland, California: Officials there are primarily concerned with illegal hotels and their drain on long-term housing stock. 

Airbnb has already offered to work with officials in San Francisco on cracking down on rogue users. The question is whether losing illegal users will eat into its bottom line. A report from Oakland's city planning department showed that 14% of local Airbnb listings were from non-resident users. But in other regions it might be higher. A 2016 report showed that nearly 40% of tourist apartments in Barcelona were illegal. 

If restrictions do come to bear, what will it mean for Airbnb? Let me know what you think. Tweet me at @ruthreader on Twitter.

01.09.17 | 11:35 am

Here’s a fresh reminder how Uber and other gig-economy giants use data to get their way with cities

Last night, news broke that Uber will share some of its coveted data about traffic patterns and routes with city officials. While the olive branch could be a boon for city planners, it's not exactly what they were asking asking for—and it reminds us how Silicon Valley companies use their vast troves of data to maintain the upper hand with the cities that regulate them. 

Case in point: New York City has been asking Uber for driver pickup and drop-off data in order to check how many hours drivers are working. Uber already shares pickup data, but it says adding drop-off data puts the privacy of its customers at risk. Now suddenly it launches this new initiative, called Uber Movement, which may distract regulators from pressing for the data they want and could serve as leverage in future entanglements with city officials.  

It's right out of the gig-economy playbook. Airbnb pulled a similar move two years ago, offering regulators data to show that the vast majority of its users were regular people, not building owners operating illegal hotels. Then in November, it called for a mandatory new registration process in San Francisco so it could better track and share data about properties with that city. In both instances, Airbnb and Uber are using data to maintain control of their relationship with local governments. 

No regulator has yet been able to tame either Airbnb or Uber, though not for lack of trying. Both companies continue to operate in markets where they're not welcome or where the legality of their business is murky. While they have tons of resources for fighting financially cumbersome legal battles, data appears a means to quell anxious officials.   

  

01.06.17 | 3:08 pm

Airbnb bets on panoramic live video to boost bookings

If you're an Airbnb host, the onus is on you to make your home as attractive as possible to potential guests. But if you're not in super-high-demand places like New York City's hottest neighborhoods, you probably could still use a boost that gets people looking for places to vacation to be more interested in your area.

Airbnb has done a lot of work on that over the years, and now, according to Adweek, it's trying out something new: live 360-degree videos on Twitter and Periscope that aim to talk up fun things to do in certain areas, like cooking special meals, visiting favorite haunts, checking out special homes, and more. The idea? To whet vacation planners' appetites.