Airbnb’s talking points about individual hosts face reality

Asked about a report from an analytics firm that found 38% of Airbnb hosts offer only one listing, an Airbnb spokesperson retorted this week, without elaborating, that “the big majority of active Airbnb hosts share a single home as single-listed hosts.”

This statement, which contradicts a AirDNA Report on the nature of Airbnb’s 6.3 million active listings in October, seemed like a concession to the undying pace of Airbnb’s reporting since at least the prelude to its 2020 IPO that 90% of hosts Airbnb are individuals.

The question is important because many Airbnb customers are looking for a local experience from an individual host, and these hosts are also sensitive to the fact that property managers have undoubtedly gained a share of bookings on Airbnb in recent years compared to solo hosts. . Airbnb knows that travelers want that person-to-person, guest-to-host experience.

Just last month, Airbnb CFO Dave Stephenson cited the 90% host figure when speaking with financial analysts. “If you go back and think about the 4 million hosts we have, we have a very different business than many others. So 90% of those hosts are individual hosts.”

Interestingly, despite all the disruption and havoc since the pandemic, the balance between individual lodging and property manager percentage hasn’t changed at all on Airbnb, according to the company. Co-founder and CEO Brian Chesky said in February, “Nearly 90% of our hosts are individuals. They are teachers, health workers, students. Our hosts have earned over $150 billion since we started and 55% of them are women.

What is an individual host?

One of the issues at play is that if you assume – as this reporter originally did – that “individual hosts” on Airbnb are people who own or control one or two properties, then you are wrong. Airbnb defines individual hosts as people who don’t use property management software, so they could have 15 or 20 listings and still be an individual host, according to Airbnb.

But how many of the aforementioned healthcare workers, teachers, and students do you know who have the wealth of owning or controlling 15 to 20 homes or other properties? If they’re running 20 Airbnbs, they’ve obviously gone into management or working for a property management company.

In his S-1 Statement in December 2020 before the IPO, Airbnb said, “As of December 31, 2019, 90% of our hosts were individual hosts, and 79% of those hosts had only one listing.”

I haven’t heard Airbnb cite the 79% unique listing number — or any unique listing number — in recent years because the company has consistently failed to mention that 90% of hosts are individuals.

An Airbnb spokesperson declined to elaborate this week on why Airbnb, at Skift’s instigation, is now saying the “vast majority” of Airbnb hosts have a single listing, and whether that represents a reduction from the share. of 79% that Airbnb explicitly disclosed as of December 31. , 2019.

Airbnb also did not comment on the AirDNA report which found that only 38% of Airbnb’s active listings – 2.4 million listings out of a total of 6.3 million in October 2022 – and not “a vast majority “, were managed by a host with a unique list.

AirDNA’s view on individual hosts

Jamie Lane, vice president of research at AirDNA, said he would agree with Airbnb that most of its hosts are individuals and he doesn’t think the 90% figure quoted by Airbnb is necessarily misleading because AirDNA, for research purposes, defines individual hosts as having 1-20 listings. After 20 listings, he said, most hosts identify as businesses and use property management software.

Yet, regarding hosts on Airbnb who have only one listing and Airbnb’s statement that the “vast majority” of hosts on Airbnb have only one listing, Lane said he “cannot access this characterization,” citing AirDNA’s 38% conclusion of single-list hosts.

In fact, Lane said the percentage of hosts with unique listings on Airbnb has been relatively stable. They made up 50% of hosts in 2016 and 40% in 2018, and in October 2022 they made up around 38%, he said. Still, a drop from 50% six years ago to the current 38% of hosts on Airbnb being responsible for a single listing is a substantial reduction.

The biggest shift in host mix was the rise of property managers on Airbnb with 21 or more listings, and they took the share of Airbnb hosts with just 2 to 5 listings, Lane said.

“The pandemic has caused a significant shift in this type of offering,” Lane said, referring to the rise of property managers on Airbnb.

Some 16% of these property manager hosts now operate 21 or more listings on Airbnb, up from 12% in 2019 before the pandemic. Some 32% of hosts offered 2-5 listings in October 2022, up from 35% in 2018, according to AirDNA.

Individual hosts are losing ground in their share of bookings with property managers, especially in resort destinations, such as Destin, Florida, where property management companies could have 70-80% of listings counting all the different platforms versus individual hosts, who might only list their properties on Airbnb, Lane said.

Airbnb mislabels hosts as individuals

A related issue for guests looking for a person-to-person connection with an individual host, who often serves as a de facto tour guide in the neighborhood, is how Airbnb identifies an “individual host” on the platform. .

Take the example of a property management company GuestReadywhich has offices in Europe and the United Arab Emirates, and has more than 4,000 listings on Airbnb.

Although in Airbnb listings for GuestReady, the text indicates that GuestReady is a property manager, sometimes the listing more clearly identifies GuestReady as an “individual host” or includes a host’s name, such as “Adeline”, and l ad identifies it. as an “individual host”.

What follows registration on Airbnb, GuestReady — Beautiful house in the center of Dublin, states that “the whole house (is) hosted by Adeline”, who is identified as an “Individual Host”, even though the house is managed by the property management company GuestReady. So guests who don’t know might think they’ll be staying in a house managed by a solo host, but they’re actually getting a property management company instead. Usually a guest can click on host profiles on Airbnb and see how many listings they have, but for the next listing there is no way to see that GuestReady has thousands of such listings on Airbnb.

The host in this listing in London claims to be an individual host, even though the property is managed by GuestReady, a fact which is also confusingly disclosed. Source: Airbnb

Alexander Limpert, co-founder and CEO of GuestReady, said he thinks it’s appropriate that the properties his company manages are labeled as self-catering because GuestReady manages properties for individuals. The hosts that GuestReady works for have an average of 1.4 listings, he said.

Of course, all property management companies manage listings for individuals or, in some cases, for corporate investors or miscellaneous real estate interests.

Limpert said the issue is “nuanced” because unlike other short-term rental companies that sometimes run blocks of dozens of identical units, GuestReady’s properties are “not cookie-cutter,” but reflect the tastes and lifestyles of the owners.

Landlords receive the lion’s share of income and have complete flexibility in how they use their properties, often staying in their property themselves when it is not rented out, he added.

There are a lot of appealing things about staying at an Airbnb run by a property manager; sometimes the house may be well equipped with all the kitchen equipment or furniture a client is looking for, and another property of that brand in another destination may be similarly equipped, and thus meet the clients’ expectations .

It’s even possible to get personal, local experience from a property manager. I’ve personally stayed at property-run Airbnbs where the manager or a team of managers/hosts were very personable and approachable about the neighborhood, or made helpful recommendations about things to do in the area.

Still, it’s deceitful for Airbnb to misrepresent the nature of the hosts — whether it’s a teacher or a healthcare worker trying to pay the mortgage — or a multinational corporation dealing with the bottom line. .

And it’s time for Airbnb to be more transparent to the financial community, as well as hosts and guests, about the distribution of host types on the platform.

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