Airbnb: Our Guests Stay Longer And Spend More Than Hotel Guests, Contributing $56M To The San Francisco Economy

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Is There Much Of A Market For A Universal Translator?

Over the past few years, there’s been some question about what effect peer-to-peer lodging marketplace Airbnb has on the hotel and tourism industry. Now the company has some research to show that it’s not having a negative effect, and in fact is actually contributing more to the tourism trade in San Francisco — especially to neighborhoods that aren’t usually visited by the typical tourist here.

According to research conducted by real estate and economic development consulting firm HR&A Advisors, Airbnb guests helped contribute $56 million in total economic activity to the San Francisco economy from June 2011 to May 2012, the vast majority of which was unrelated to the money they spent on lodging. Airbnb guests spent $12.7 million in lodging during that time, but spent an additional $43.1 million while staying in town.

Surprisingly, Airbnb guests actually outspend hotel guests, despite 79 percent of them saying in a company survey that saving money is one reason why they choose staying in host apartments rather than hotels. Because they save a little bit of money each day in lodging fees, they end up staying longer than typical San Francisco tourist — an average of 5.5 days per stay, compared to 3.5 for hotel guests.

At the end of the day, that typically means they end up spending more on other things. The average Airbnb guest spends approximately $360 in lodging fees, slightly more than hotel guests — but keep in mind, they’re staying two extra days, on average. The extra time spent in town translates to significantly more daytime spending — $740 per stay, compared to $530 hotel guests. The end results is that they outspend hotel guests $1,100 to $840 per stay.

While Airbnb has grown significantly over the last several years, it hasn’t actually had any effect on the hotel industry, at least in San Francisco. Hotel occupancy and prices have both actually increased in the years since Airbnb launched. The study shows that hotel occupancy rates are about 84 percent today — up from 2006, and way up from the down years of 2009 and 2010. Meanwhile, average daily rates for hotel rooms have also increased, to above $160, from below $100 in 2006.

Part of the reason for that is the fact that hotel capacity has largely remained stagnant in San Francisco during that time: Airbnb public policy head Molly Turner said she’s been told there hasn’t been a new hotel built in the city in about nine years. And part of it is that Airbnb guests aren’t your typical downtown tourist types. The company’s research shows that a significant number of its guests stay in neighborhoods outside of the central hotel corridor.

While both Airbnb and hotel guests are likely to visit touristy destinations in areas like Union Square, the Embarcadero, or Fisherman’s Wharf, those who book Airbnb accommodations are significantly more likely to explore other parts of town. Top destinations for Airbnb guests include the Castro, Mission, Richmond, Sunset, Tenderloin, and Haight/Ashbury. A lot of that simply has to do with where Airbnb guests are staying: When they book accommodations in a section of San Francisco outside of downtown, they’re much more likely to spend money in those neighborhoods.

Check out the distribution of Airbnb listings compared to hotels around San Francisco below. Mosre listings in more neighborhoods means more choice and a greater likelihood that guests will stay in, and explore, parts of town that some might consider “off the beaten track.” More than 90 percent say staying in non-tourist areas is important to their stay.

That translates into real money for neighborhood businesses in which Airbnb guests stay. The research estimates that guests spent more than $15 million in neighborhoods like The Mission, SOMA, Haight/Ashbury, and the Castro, which exist outside the usual hotel-laden areas. About 52 percent of Airbnb guests, for instance, visited The Mission, compared to 17 percent of hotel guests. Meanwhile, 49 percent of Airbnb guests visited the Richmond, Sunset, Ocean Beach, or Golden Gate Park, compared to 10 percent of hotel guests who wandered into the neighborhoods themselves, and 33 percent who sought out the park.

Of course, one takeaway from all this is simply that the Airbnb tourist isn’t the same as the usual hotel guest, and so the company is helping to increase tourism that might not otherwise exist. Turner argues that the data shows Airbnb is a complement to the traditional hotel or tourist industry.

Not only are tourists more likely to spend in the neighborhoods that they’re staying in, but hosts unsurprisingly have more cash to spend in their own neighborhoods as well. According to the research, hosts typically spend about 15 percent of their Airbnb income in nearby establishments, which pumps an extra $1.9 million into their local neighborhood economies.

On that front, Airbnb also has research to show that its hosts are using the platform as a way to augment their own income and even pay for necessities. The research finds that approximately 60 percent of hosts make less than the median income in San Francisco. Hosts listing a whole home make an average of $9,300 per year for booking about 58 days a year, while those just listing a room make an average of $6,900 per year for 88 nights booked. According to its surveys, about 56 percent of hosts use Airbnb proceeds to help pay their rent, while 54 percent use it for extra spending money.

Now, here’s the obvious caveat: Airbnb paid for this research, initially for its own internal purposes, Turner told me. And it’s totally in the company’s best interests to show the economic benefits of its service for the areas it operates in. But take a look at HR&A’s client and project lists. It’s pretty legit.

Earlier this year, Airbnb announced that it hit 10 million guest nights booked in total, with 200,000 active property listings on the site. The company has already raised more than $120 million, but is in the process of raising another big round, at a valuation north of $2 billion.