SAN FRANCISCO | From Chris Lehane's perspective, Airbnb has a lot to be thankful for this holiday season.
The San Francisco-based home-sharing startup just saw its best quarter ever. It's big bet on activity booking is paying off. And more cities are coming to terms with its revolutionary short-term rental model.
Those were some of the main bragging points Lehane, Airbnb's head of global policy, touched last week in a media conference call the startup treats as a sort-of state of the company address.
Since it launched in 2008, Airbnb has accommodated more than 250 million guests at more than 4 million listings in 191 countries, which Lehane said accounts for more rooms than the top five hotel chains combined. Bloomberg on Tuesday reported Airbnb doubled its net revenue in the third quarter of this year — raking in about $1 billion, up from $500 million in the same period last year — and continues to make a profit. As a private company, Airbnb generally does not share its financial information, and when asked about those figures, Lehane did not confirm or deny them.
And while Airbnb remains controversial in some markets (like San Francisco and Oakland) where people worry it's removing housing units in an already tight market, the startup is increasingly making nice with city leaders. Lehane praised new rules in Vancouver that regulate home-sharing. And he said Airbnb in the past year has formed 119 new deals that let the startup collect and remit tourist taxes on behalf of the cities in which it operates.
"We certainly do not claim to be perfect," Lehane said, "but we are committed to trying to make this work as well as possible."
Airbnb also launched its latest attack against the hotel industry, continuing the ongoing battle between the two rivals. The startup has collected and remitted more than $510 million in travel and tourist taxes to cities around the world, according to a new Airbnb report. In contrast, the company's study of 91 U.S. hotels found the hotels received $4.9 billion in taxpayer dollars in the form of tax breaks and subsidies to support the construction and operation of hotels.
"They're getting these subsidies from taxpayers at the same time they're having record profits, paying up record executive compensation, and simultaneously trying to stop Airbnb from being able to collect and pay taxes back into these communities," Lehane said.
The hotel industry in the past has attacked Airbnb's tax deals, claiming they give cities a raw deal.
Meanwhile, Airbnb's new experiences feature is taking off, Lehane said. The startup took a risk in January when it launched a new activity booking platform — its first foray outside of home-sharing. Since then, weekly bookings are up about 15 times, Lehane said, and the service is bigger than the company's home-sharing service was at that stage of its life.
"The experiences our guests are having on these are pretty incredible if you look at the types of reviews that they're getting," he said.
Airbnb's instant book option also is growing — the company now has 2 million such listings around the world. Instant book listings let a traveler reserve a room in seconds, without waiting for the host's approval.
Lehane also spouted off a few other fun facts — so far nearly 600,000 Airbnb guests have stayed in boats, 130,000 in tree houses and 140,000 in yurts.
"We're hoping," he said, "that all of you on the phone have the chance to experience a night in a yurt somewhere in the world."