Airbnb stays in Indy skyrocket as hotels fill up

As big events fill Indianapolis hotels to capacity, Airbnb hosts are cashing in.

Indianapolis was the second-fastest-growing market in the Midwest for Airbnb Inc. between July 2015 and June 2016, according to a report released Wednesday by the company.

Airbnb stays in Indianapolis soared 231%, welcoming 20,400 guests in one year, according to the company. Hosts rented their listings for an average of 22 nights, generating $3,000 in revenue over the 12 months included in Airbnb’s report. The only Midwestern city in which stays grew at a faster rate was Cincinnati (249%). Columbus, Ohio was the only other city to achieve 200% growth.

Airbnb is an online platform that allows people to rent a couch, a room, or an entire house to guests for a short period of time. While some travelers prefer to stay with Airbnb hosts for an intimate experience in an unfamiliar city, the platform is increasingly filling city gaps when hotels are fully booked.

The company’s report comes amid a debate over whether hotel capacity is too tight in Indianapolis. Marion County has 22,191 hotel rooms, a number that has dropped by 1,043 rooms since 2011. Occupancy during this period has fallen from 58.1% in 2011 to 69.1% so far This year.

Increasingly crowded hotel rooms are forcing travelers out of town — or renting Airbnbs. Ahead of the 100th Indianapolis 500 on May 29, for example, the Indianapolis Market’s 33,000 hotel rooms sold out in March, pushing travelers all the way to South Bend. This prompted many Indianapolis-area residents to jump on Airbnb for the first time, listing rooms for $500 or more per night during race weekend.

Ian McHenry, President of Beyond the pricesa San Francisco company that works with its customers to set Airbnb prices, said Indianapolis had about 1,200 Airbnb listings around the Indianapolis 500 weekend, although Airbnb data shows only 1 000 users have actually hosted guests.

“When hotels sell out, that’s when people start to panic and look elsewhere,” McHenry told IndyStar in May. “So once that happens, that’s when they start looking at Airbnb and other alternative combinations.”

Visit Indy, the city’s tourism agency, commissioned a study to determine whether Indianapolis should expand its convention center and add hotel rooms. According to Visit Indy, major events fill the city’s hotels about 60 nights a year.

While Indianapolis is among Airbnb’s fastest growing markets, the company reported that every market in the Midwest has seen at least 90% growth in stays year over year.

“The rapid growth of home sharing in the Midwest is transforming historically great communities into truly global destinations,” Airbnb said in its report. “And the sharing economy allows Midwesterners to use their most important asset – their home – as an economic lifeline.”

IndyStar reporter Brian Eason contributed to this story.

Call IndyStar reporter James Briggs at (317) 444-6307. Follow him on Twitter: @JamesEBriggs.

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