Analysts this week speculated that Airbnb may be preparing for an initial public offering, as the home-based accommodations service looks to generate additional cash for expansion by selling shares to the public before its growth slows.
The privately held, San Francisco-based company recently received a $1 billion line of credit from a group of lenders that included Bank of America, Citigroup and JPMorgan Chase and Morgan Stanley, Bloomberg News reported, citing people familiar with the process. Airbnb had previously raised about $2.3 billion in equity, the Wall Street Journal reported.
With more than 2 million listings worldwide, Airbnb may be looking to broaden its in-destination services beyond lodging listings while continuing to expand its global footprint, which already spans more than 190 countries.
That Airbnb’s most recent funding round was for debt via traditional banks instead of equity hints that a payback could be in the making in the form of an IPO, said David Loeb, senior hotel research analyst with Baird. Airbnb spokesman Nick Papas declined to comment.
“It’s not surprising,” Loeb said of the debt funding. “If you’re going to do to do an IPO, do it soon, because the tide is turning.”
Indeed, Airbnb continues to face opposition from the hotel industry and some key municipalities. The former alleges that many Airbnb hosts operate de facto hotel rooms without adhering to the same regulations as hotels, while the cities accuse Airbnb hosts of short-changing them by not paying enough, if any, occupancy taxes.
Such opposition was most recently reflected in a bill passed by New York State legislators that would ban the advertisement of short-term rental units in New York apartment buildings. It now goes to New York governor Andrew Cuomo, who could sign it, veto it or let it become law without his signature.
The bill, which was drawn up in January, prohibits “advertising that promotes the use of dwelling units in a class A multiple dwelling for other than permanent residence purposes,” and applies to “any form of communication,” including mail, magazines, newspapers, websites and text messages as well as television- and radio-advertising.
First-time offenders would be fined up to $1,000, while second-time violators would face fines of up to $5,000. A $7,500 fine would apply for each violation thereafter. Airbnb has referred to the bill as “wrongheaded.”
If it were to make an initial public offering, Airbnb would join a multitude of tech-oriented companies that started offering shares to the public before earning a profit. Airbnb, whose estimated market value of $25.5 billion would make it more valuable than either Hilton Worldwide or Marriott International, hasn’t yet made an annual profit and says it has cumulatively lost “less than $250 million” since its 2008 founding.
Last year, the company was reported to have generated about $1 billion in revenue, compared with $14.5 billion for Marriott and $11.3 billion for Hilton.
Unlike hotel companies, Airbnb owns neither real estate nor long-term management contracts, making the concept of collateral for the loan more nebulous than it would be for hotel companies. Whether that would qualify Airbnb as a so-called “bubble” investment remains open to interpretation.
Lorraine Sileo, senior vice president for research at Phocuswright, compared Airbnb to Amazon because of both companies’ rapid growth from inception and substantial impact on the lodging and retail sectors, respectively. Amazon, which was founded in 1994, generated $3 billion in cumulative net losses before earning its first annual profit in 2003.
“Airbnb has no real assets, but there’s real future there,” Sileo said. “All of the travel trends are positive for Airbnb. If anything, you see hotels trying to replicate their model.”