Airbnb to offer AI tools to hosts to tackle property shortfall

Airbnb is moving to prevent a shortfall in rental properties as global travel rebounds, rolling out a suite of new tools including AI-driven listing curation to encourage more hosts to advertise their properties on its site.

The short-term rental platform had about 4m active hosts, it said on Monday, but the number of active listings on the site had been flat over the past six months, as many continued to live and work in properties they might otherwise have rented out.

Now, with lockdown measures easing and travellers getting vaccinated, Airbnb faces a supply crunch in popular destinations, as an influx of guests risks outnumbering hosts.

The company said it had moved to lessen the shortfall by simplifying the process of adding properties to its website. New features include allowing hosts to use public records data to auto-fill their listings with relevant information, and gauge appropriate pricing for the area.

It is also introducing AI tools such as image recognition to automatically arrange pictures in ways most likely to appeal to potential guests.

The move comes as analysts anticipate significant pent-up demand as pandemic curbs loosen. On Monday, Airbnb chief executive Brian Chesky said the company was expecting the “the biggest [travel] rebound in a century”. In April, he told CNBC his company needed “millions more hosts”.

“I think it’s clear why [Airbnb] are focusing on host acquisition,” said Steven Jankowski from short-term rental analysts AllTheRooms. “Even before Covid-19 hit, their host growth was slowing, and it still looks pretty flat as the virus recedes and we reopen.”

Richard Clarke, a travel analyst at Bernstein, said that Airbnb also faced greater competition from both online travel agencies such as Expedia and and regional players and hotel companies that had invested in self-catered lets during the coronavirus emergency.

He also noted that early in the pandemic, Airbnb had forced hosts to refund guests affected by travel bans, resulting in “an element of disquiet” among property owners. “People fear that they risk cancellation more than at other platforms because [Airbnb] does have very flexible terms,” Clarke said.

The average daily rate for an Airbnb stay in the first quarter of this year rose to $160, up 35 per cent on the same period in 2020, according to company filings.

Since the start of the pandemic, many of Airbnb’s bookings have migrated to destinations outside dense urban areas, previously the bedrock of its business. For instance, the company said that so far in 2021 there had been more searches on Airbnb for places to stay in Cornwall than in London.

The nature of Airbnb stays had also changed, the company said. The number of longer stays — 28 days or more — had increased to 24 per cent of all stays in the first quarter of this year, versus 14 per cent in 2019. As of April 30 2021, Airbnb said 62 per cent of all bookings in New York City were for long-term stays.

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