/ 11 November 2023

Airbnb upgrades platform as it shakes off tough year

As the array of homes on Airbnb grows, it faces complaints from hosts who wind up making less money

Airbnb chief Brian Chesky believes the home-sharing platform is “turning a corner” after a difficult year that included a crackdown in New York.

The company, which shook up the hotel industry by enabling travellers to book accommodation in residences, unveiled its latest updates on Wednesday.

“After this release, we will be turning a corner, picking our heads up and focusing on new products and new offerings,” Chesky said. 

The confident outlook came after a year marked by cities seeking to clamp down on Airbnb-type short-term rentals out of fears they were taking long-term housing off the market and driving up rents.

Chesky said in September that he did not see a swift end to the strict limits recently imposed by New York. A law severely limiting apartment or room rentals of less than 30 days went into effect that month and triggered a plunge in short-term rentals on Airbnb in one of its largest markets.

“We’re always willing to work with the city of New York, just like we are willing to work with cities all over the world,” Chesky said. “At this point, we are focused on trying to support the hosts in New York.”

While the city was most of Airbnb’s market more than a decade ago, it represents less than 1.5% of the firm’s business today.

Chesky pushed back against the idea Airbnb was driving up housing costs, confident that rents and hotel prices in the city will continue to climb even with the law in place.

Airbnb is seeing travellers to New York shift to booking lodging with hosts in the neighbouring state of New Jersey or resorting to seeking places to stay offered discreetly in online classified ads, according to Chesky. He believes an overall lack of housing is the culprit, not Airbnb.

Airbnb also has strained relations in France, its second-largest market, with authorities looking to rein in tourist rentals. For now, the huge housing needs for the 2024 Olympics in Paris have interests in the city aligned with those of Airbnb.

“This is a real opportunity for our service to shine in Paris,” said Chesky, who expects half a million people to stay at Airbnb lodgings during the games.

On paper, the San Francisco-based company has seen its profits swell every quarter this year. Airbnb reported an adjusted profit of $1.6  billion on $3.4  billion in revenue in the recently ended quarter, topping earnings posted in the same period a year earlier.

Airbnb shares lost ground nonetheless, with investors evidently disappointed with forecasts for earnings in the current quarter.

The latest updates to the platform are aimed at helping hosts better showcase homes and giving potential visitors a reliable sense of what to expect.

Airbnb has launched more than 350 updates and tools in the past two years, and concentrated its efforts on its core home-share business after the travel industry was hammered during the Covid-19 pandemic, according to Chesky. 

“Every step of the way, we’ve been trying to address feedback,” Chesky said.

A new “Guest Favourites” category is a collection of the two million “most loved” homes on Airbnb based on ratings and other data on some half a billion trips, the company said.

“One of the reasons people still like hotels is because they know what they are going to get,” Chesky said.

Airbnb set out to make a feature that “combined the uniqueness of Airbnb” when it comes to the variety of homes with the reliability guests expect from hotels, the chief executive said of the platform upgrades.

As the array of homes on Airbnb grows, the platform faces complaints from hosts who wind up making less money because of the competition.

“We tried to thread the needle and find the midpoint where hosts feel like they are getting great economics and guests feel like they are getting great value,” Chesky said. “We’re making a huge amount of progress.”He contended that while Airbnb prices have not risen in the past year, hotel costs have, and that hosts are making record-high earnings in countries around the world. — AFP