Airbnb forges trail to the mountains

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Condos in Steamboat Springs, Colo.
Condos in Steamboat Springs, Colo. Photo Credit: Shutterstock

KEYSTONE, Colo. —  Like prospectors in these Rocky Mountains more than a century ago, Airbnb showed up to this mountain town this week looking to stake its claim.

The home-rental service, which made its bones in cities, is setting its sights on mountain resorts. 

And unlike most lodging conferences where Airbnb is considered Public Enemy #1, the company found a receptive audience at the Mountain Travel Symposium (MTS).

The company struck a conciliatory chord of sorts during conference presentations on Wednesday by expressing its efforts to provide a fuller experience than merely providing a lodging unit.

Shaun Stewart, Airbnb’s global head of vacation rentals, noted that he had arrived late the previous night. While his Airbnb unit was fine, it could’ve been improved if the host would’ve either stocked the fridge or left a list of local restaurants that are open late.

“There’s a range of opportunities in the experience,” Stewart said.

Airbnb appeared to really go in for the proverbial kill on Thursday. David Burden, Airbnb’s market manager of ski products, softened up his breakout-discussion audience of about 60 people by saying he was “not going to talk about millennials,” which generated applause. He then outlined the company’s efforts to grow its presence in mountain resorts.

With about 810,000 vacation-rental units in U.S. mountain resorts, Burden estimated that they generate more than $18 billion in annual revenue. Unlike cities where hotels are king, condo-type multi-bedroom units dominate in the mountains.

With that in mind, Burden said Airbnb last summer introduced an application program interface (API)  geared to help owners and management companies generate more revenue by devising systems to better reach prospective guests and track inventory.

So far, the plan appears to be working. While the number of Airbnb’s urban units continue to dwarf the number of its mountain units, Burden said the revenue that Airbnb's mountain-resort hosts generated in the first quarter alone was about 75% of 2015’s full-year total. 

Burden also offered tips on how owners can better sell their properties. He recommended using the clearest and most flattering lead image (or “hero image,” as he called it) on the site, and being flexible about accepting one- or two-night bookings, especially during shoulder seasons.

“The best managers are willing to take shorter length-of-stay agreements,” he said.

Still, Burden was modest, at least by Airbnb standards, in regards to his company’s presence at mountain resorts, noting that “we’re clearly not the industry leaders,” and Thursday’s audience appeared to bear him out. When he asked for a show of hands of how many people working in the accommodations sector were using Airbnb, just six of the 60 raised their hands.

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