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Airbnb’s 99 million opportunities - Ed’s letter

This month has seen the first results season of the year for the sector, which, for many groups, has been the end of their year and a chance to kick back and have a chin stroke about where they’re going and what it all means.

At Airbnb, that bête noire of hospitality, co-founder & CEO Brian Chesky was saying all sorts of things that suggested it was time to start listening to the platform again. The hospitality sector - not just hotels - has found a comfortable spot in the past few years ignoring it, because it’s a complex and confusing thing.

Chesky reported the group’s strongest-ever fourth quarter, with 99 million Nights and Experiences booked. The company irritates City observers by failing to split out nights and experiences, but 99 million of anything is a lot.

He also announced that the group was going to grow in different verticals, with the help of AI. It acquired GamePlanner.AI in November, which was going help with all this expansion and Chesky said that the group was now ready to “expand beyond our core business”.

One of the reasons the group needs to do this, outside a fondness for making money, is because a number of jurisdictions around the world have been raining on its parade, most notably in New York. In the UK, the government is mulling rules over registration and planning, which naturally Airbnb is welcoming.

The group said: “Evidence must be at the heart of any planning interventions, and data from an effective central short-term let register should be the source that informs local and national decisions on housing. The current planning proposals do not acknowledge the importance of a comprehensive short-term lets register on informing local planning rules – and without this reliable evidence base, the grounds on which local planning restrictions could be introduced remains unclear.

“Airbnb therefore proposes that the government backs using the short-term let register as a crucial source of information, to ensure that planning interventions are evidence-based and don’t risk cutting a financial lifeline to households and communities that depend on tourism.”

Well indeed. What is certain is that the hotel sector has failed in its plan to regulate the platform - for that is what it is - out of existence. It’s time instead to work with it. Airbnb provides a bed and, unless you have a motivated host, that’s it. There is a chance to provide service, be that holding keys, changing sheets, offering access to gyms, F&B, office space. Likewise, for pubs, bars and restaurants. Airbnb makes a lot of its guests living like locals, so let’s find ways to welcome them.

The sector has looked down on Airbnb for too long. It might be time to welcome it as one of us.


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