Will Booking beat Airbnb in alternative accommodation listings?

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Booking Holdings has publicized its alternative accommodations listings for the first time, and claims its biggest brand, Booking.com, is the leader from a supply perspective with more than 5 million listings of homes, apartments, and other lodgings, topping Airbnb.

An Airbnb source said the company now claims 4.85 million listings, up from the previously disclosed 4.5 million at the end of 2017, and the company estimates to top 5 million listings by the end of June.

Booking, in its announcement Tuesday, cited what it characterizes as “5 million reported listings” based on the number of units that owners or property managers disclose as being distributed through the online travel agency.

Conversely, the Airbnb source claimed “the number of listings in our global network has increased 36 percent over the past year and is only accelerating.” So Airbnb maintains that its listings ranks are growing at a faster clip than Booking’s.

1. Not Being Appreciated

Booking Holdings CEO Glenn Fogel told Skift that the company decided to calculate and publicize its number of alternative accommodations listings for the first time — as opposed to merely reporting a property count — because it wanted to show the true scale of its business.

Fogel said he’s observed anecdotally that many people, particularly in the United States, do not appreciate the scope of the lodging offerings available on Booking.com and its sister companies. That is one of the reasons the parent company recently changed its name from the Priceline Group to Booking Holdings, reflecting the strength of its largest subsidiary, Amsterdam-based Booking.com.

So does this make Booking the leader in alternative accommodations, beating out Airbnb, which many people view as the leader in the sector?

2. More than a listing race?

Companies must have marketing and advertising skills — Booking spent more than $4 billion last year just on digital marketing — and then be able to convert lookers into bookers once they arrive on your website. Both companies would admit, meanwhile, that Airbnb only attracts a fraction of Booking.com’s site traffic.

Fogel points to Booking Holdings’ performance in commenting that he’s pleased with the company’s competitive position. The company’s gross travel bookings increased 19 percent in 2017 to $81.2 billion while net income grew 9.6 percent to $2.34 billion.

The Airbnb source argues that Airbnb has an advantage in its face-off with Booking.com because 3.5 million of Airbnb’s listings, or 72 percent, are exclusive in that they can only be booked on Airbnb.

3. A host of issues

Regarding marketing spend, one of the reasons Booking has been able to become a company with a $98.9 billion market cap is that it has found a way to spend $4 billion on digital marketing in one year, and to do it relatively efficiently so that it can plow more money back into marketing. Investors, however, are concerned about the spending blitz.

While Airbnb provides its hosts with certain guarantees and offers them insurance, as well as photography services for their units, Fogel notes that the company has products in the pipeline to address a range of services in the non-traditional accommodation sector. It is behind the curve in terms of Airbnb’s offerings to hosts.

4. A new marketing hire

Booking Holdings’ heightened competition with Airbnb comes as Booking hired Olivier Gremillon as vice president of Booking Home to lead its homes and apartments strategy. 

In Booking Holdings’ announcement about its 5 million listings Tuesday, Gremillion stated, “We’re definitely proud of this milestone, and will continue to strengthen our leadership position in this space. No matter what type of experience our customers want, we aim to connect them with the unique stay that’s just right for them.”

The accelerated emphasis on alternative accommodations comes after years of taking what some might describe as a conservative stance toward the sector under previous CEOs Jeffery Boyd and Darren Huston. Boyd is still chairman of the company.

Read more: Will current changes from OTAs affect hospitality brands?