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Airbnb growth has not hurt hotels' ability to raise prices, study finds

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Airbnb growth has not hurt hotels' ability to raise prices, study finds

Airbnb occupancy is highest in areas where hotels also have high occupancy, but has generally not hurt hotel operators' ability to raise their rates on the most crowded nights, a new study from STR Inc. found.

The study suggests that despite Airbnb's large market share and growing size, the company has not hurt the hotel industry because it is, in many ways, not a direct competitor. As of November 2016, Airbnb had roughly 3 million listings, far more than the roughly 1.1 million listings for the world's largest hotel company, Marriott International Inc. Yet when STR excluded rooms not directly comparable to hotel rooms from the study — including shared accommodations — Airbnb units totaled only roughly 1 million.

Moreover, while Airbnb guests stayed longer on average than hotel guests, with nearly half of all room nights booked as part of stays seven days or longer, the company's share of business travel was substantially smaller than its share of leisure travel, STR found.

Hotel market participants have worried in recent years about Airbnb's potential to disrupt the industry, and hotel executives have argued both sides of the issue. At times, when pressuring local governments for greater regulation of room-sharing companies like Airbnb, they have cast the company as an existential threat. At other times, when talking to investors and analysts, they have argued that the service they provide is unique, and cannot be replicated by small property owners renting out their dwellings to travelers.

A salient question is whether spikes in Airbnb listings during peak travel times, when hotels are also fullest, would hurt hoteliers' ability to raise prices and capitalize on high demand.

In its study, STR analyzed data from Airbnb from December 2013 through July 2016 in 13 markets: Barcelona, Boston, London, Los Angeles, Mexico City, Miami, New Orleans, Paris, San Francisco, Seattle, Sydney, Tokyo and Washington, D.C.

The firm found that in the U.S. markets, while Airbnb listing totals in fact grew in areas where hotels were fuller, hotel occupancy did not seem to suffer as a result, with the number of 95%-occupied nights at hotels remaining steady through the years. Even as Airbnb's presence grew, hoteliers in the U.S. markets also appeared to retain their pricing power, raising prices on the busiest nights by 34.8% in 2016, versus by 30.8% in 2013.

Jan Freitag, STR's senior vice president for lodging insights, noted in the study that Airbnb owners "seem to not deploy yield management strategies as effectively as their hotel counterparts." In other words, Airbnb hosts did not move their pricing higher or lower in response to demand as effectively as hotel operators — perhaps a logical conclusion, since hotel companies are typically larger and more sophisticated than the small owners and renters who list their units on Airbnb.

Hotel occupancy was "significantly higher" than Airbnb occupancy in the 12 months ending July 2016, STR found. While hotels' average daily rate increased in all but one market studied over the same period, Airbnb rates decreased in eight markets and increased in five.