Airbnb edges out home-rental rival with 6 million listings

The Airbnb application is displayed on an iPhone. (Bloomberg pic)

NEW YORK: Competition in the home-rental business just got tighter with two of the biggest players releasing new data in an attempt to outshine one another.

Airbnb plans to announce Friday that it now has six million global listings. This means the startup now has more listings “than the six largest hotel groups have rooms, combined,” the company said in a statement.

The new figure places San Francisco-based Airbnb a nose ahead of Booking Holdings, which reported earlier this week it had more than 5.7 million home-rental listings as of the end of December.

Airbnb launched just over a decade ago and shook up the online travel market by persuading millions of people around the world to open up their homes to strangers. Booking, the travel fare aggregator and the search engine is formerly known as Priceline, has been catching up and the two are almost neck-and-neck in revenue and listings for home-share properties, the fastest growing section of the online travel industry.

Last November, Airbnb, which is expected to file for an initial public offering by the end of next year, said it recognised “substantially more” than US$1 billion in revenue in the third quarter of fiscal 2018, the busiest travel period.

While announcing fourth quarter results on Wednesday, Booking Chief Executive Officer Glenn Fogel said his company had also pulled in over US$1 billion in sales from its alternative accommodation, or home-rental, business in the same period.

Fogel said home rentals had grown to account for 20% of the company’s overall revenue for the year. It was the first time Booking had pulled out the metric from its overall sales.

“It was definitely a bigger number than I was expecting,” said Seth Borko, a research analyst who covers Booking for the industry research platform Skift. By lifting the veil on its alternative accommodation revenue, Booking proves it’s “a bigger threat than some assumed,” Borko said.

While the home-rental competition is largely a two-horse race, Expedia’s HomeAway is also gaining ground. HomeAway recognised US$1.2 billion in sales for 2018, while Booking’s alternative accommodation business reported US$2.8 billion. Skift estimated Airbnb pulled in US$4.4 billion in 2018 almost entirely from alternative accommodations. Airbnb hasn’t released revenue figures for 2018.

“It’s certainly competitive and there are three large players going after the market,” said Tom White, senior analyst at DA Davidson “Everyone is trying to build up inventory in their competitor’s areas of strength.”