Airbnb is an online rental marketplace on which travelers can book apartments and other types of properties hosted by the owner. The platform, furthermore, offers bookable activities.
The company, which is headquartered in San Francisco, California, was founded in 2008 by Brian Chesky, Joe Gebbia, and Nathan Blecharczyk.
Airbnb is widely considered the largest platform of its kind. It boasts six million listings across 220+ countries in over 100,000 cities and towns. A total of four million hosts are registered on Airbnb and they, on average, make close to $14k via the platform per year.
Its continuous growth has enabled Airbnb to go public back in December 2020. The IPO netted Airbnb $3.5 billion on top of the $6.4 billion it raised during its life as a private company.
The company, in recent times, underwent one of its biggest rebrands ever. It now prominently features a variety of different properties including beach houses, cabins, and even hotels.
However, it didn’t always look like success was guaranteed. The founders were only making a few hundred dollars per month for the first few years of the firm’s existence. They even sold Obama-branded cereals to stay afloat.
Even as things turned around, Airbnb remained in the limelight. Cities across the globe claimed that the mere existence of Airbnb would lead to higher rental prices. On top of that, its hosts have been fined millions for running illegal hotel operations and failing to pay the appropriate tax.
Airbnb, in spite of those issues, has now become synonymous with renting apartments from strangers. The firm, much like Uber, created a whole new category by itself and prompted other travel-related platforms such as Booking to follow suit.
Today, Airbnb generates close to $6 billion in annual revenue. In 2021, its gross bookings on the platform were equal to $46.88 billion. More than 6,100 people are now employed by the company across the globe.
The methodology with which competitors of Airbnb are ranked is based on publicly available information. Data points such as revenue, number of listings and bookings, funding and valuation, the number of employees, and anything else that might be relevant will be considered.
We mostly consider competing platforms that boast apartments and other types of accommodations. As a result, indirect competitors, such as hotel chains (who actually own the locations they advertise on their websites), will be excluded.
It has to be noted that this analysis should not be seen as an endorsement of either service. It is merely a summary of the competition that Airbnb faces as of today.
So, without further ado, let’s take a closer look at the top 15 competitors as well as the competitive advantage of Airbnb.
Headquarters: Amsterdam, The Netherlands Founder(s): Geert-Jan Bruinsma Year Founded: 1996
Booking.com, the namesake site behind travel’s biggest holding company, offers anything from flights to hotels. The site is available in 43 languages and has close to 100 million reviews published on it.
In August 2020, Booking announced that it would finally offer weekly and monthly rentals on its platform in response to both Covid-19 travel trends as well as Airbnb’s ever-increasing dominance.
Booking.com itself now boasts 28 million reported accommodation listings – of which 6.2 million can be attributed to long-term stays such as apartments, condos, or houses.
The site itself was launched by Dutch university graduate Geert-Jan Bruinsma who became frustrated with the lack of hotel booking options in his home country. When he visited Hilton’s newly launched website for the first time, it immediately clicked – and prompted him to create a copycat version for travelers from and into the Netherlands.
In 2000, he agreed to merge with another site called Bookings Online. The dot-com crash had wiped out many of the funding opportunities previously available to startups like his.
They then acquired the Booking.com domain name soon after. Ironically, Expedia, which is probably its biggest competitor, tried to acquire Booking for close to two years. However, Booking eventually sold to Priceline for $133 million in 2005.
For most of its existence, Booking.com had been part of Priceline. However, in 2018, it rebranded into Booking Holdings to align the company with what it was (and still is) known for: booking online travel. That holding company now encompasses some of the world’s biggest travel brands including Agoda, KAYAK, RentalsCars.com, OpenTable, and more.
In 2021, Booking Holdings, which unfortunately doesn’t break down income figures for its namesake site, generated $11 billion in revenue. Gross bookings were equal to $76.6 billion over that timespan. Booking.com itself employs over 15,000 people across the globe.
Headquarters: Aurora, Colorado Founder(s): David Clouse Year Founded: 1995
Vrbo, which stands for “vacation rentals by owner,” is probably the biggest pure-play accommodation competitor to Airbnb. It currently offers over two million bookable properties on its platform.
Much like Airbnb, Vrbo offers all kinds of vacation rentals including condos and apartments, cabins, cottages, beach houses, hotels, resorts, chalets, and many more. The firm has, furthermore, acquired a variety of other vacation rental platforms such as Abritel.fr, Bookabach.co.nz, or Stayz.com.au.
Its founder, David Clouse, launched the site to rent out his ski condo in Colorado. Others would soon ask him whether they could put up their own properties as well. Ten years after it launched, Vrbo already boasted over 65,000 rentals.
Vrbo’s consistent growth prompted HomeAway, another vacation rental platform, to acquire the firm back in 2006. Nine years later, Expedia paid $3.9 billion to purchase HomeAway.
HomeAway, in 2020, was merged into Vrbo to collectively push the brand and make it more competitive against Airbnb. A year prior, Vrbo had just rebranded from ‘VRBO’ and added key features such as 360-degree walkthroughs.
While Expedia does not disclose exact revenue figures for Vrbo, its CEO recently announced that he expects the platform, which employs over 600 people, to generate $2 billion in annual revenue very soon.
Headquarters: Bellevue, Washington Founder(s): Rich Barton, Richard Bangs Year Founded: 1996
Expedia is the second-biggest holding company in the travel space right behind Booking. The combined company generates $8.6 billion in revenue (2021) and operates brands such as Hotels.com, trivago, Vrbo, and many more.
Travelers on Expedia.com can book anything from flights, hotels, cars, activities, and more. It has been competing with Airbnb as early as 2015 when it introduced vacation rentals in a partnership with HomeAway.
Expedia itself was created as a sub-division of Microsoft with the purpose of being promoted on the firm’s MSN portal. Rich Barton, at the time, had just transferred from Microsoft’s CD-ROM division into the multimedia department, which was tasked with expanding the reach of MSN.
Three years after it launched in 1996, Expedia was spun out of Microsoft (the first time Microsoft did something like this) and went public on the Nasdaq stock exchange. In 2003, Barry Diller’s IAC acquired a controlling stake in Expedia. Two years later, it spun off its travel division to create Expedia Group.
Today, the combined group generates close to $73 billion in gross bookings per year. Over three million properties are listed across those sites in total. On top of that, Expedia offers more than 220,000 activities and works together with 500+ airlines, car rentals, and cruise companies.
4. Google Travel
Headquarters: Mountain View, California Founder(s): Google Year Founded: 2011
Google Travel allows you to book flights, hotels, as well as vacation rentals. It first entered Airbnb’s turf back in march 2019 when it added vacation rentals as a filter to its hotel search. Later, in 2021, it launched it as a separate section.
Apart from allowing travelers to book, Google also provides them with inspiration regarding new destinations, restaurants, and more. Those travel recommendations are largely informed by the reviews Google collects from Maps.
In 2011, Google launched both Hotel Finder and Flights, after it purchased flight information company ITA for $700 million just a year prior.
Google does currently not publicize any traffic or revenue figures for Travel – with good reason. Its competitors have accused the search engine giant of favoring its own products over those of competitors.
A quick search for keywords such as ‘hotels in New York’ reveals Google options being ranked as the first organic result. This, in turn, forces its competitors to spend billions on ads to rank ahead of Google – which can collect all the remaining traffic for free.
That may soon be over, though. In June 2021, Congress passed the American Choice and Innovation Online Act, which would prohibit platforms such as Amazon or Google from promoting their “own products, services, or lines of business over” those of competitors.
Airbnb itself has largely decided against promoting its platform on Google. Most of its customers are now directly accessing the platform and thus simply bypass Google. Nevertheless, as Google continues to build up its travel product, it certainly becomes a bigger threat to Airbnb and everyone else.
Headquarters: Singapore Founder(s): Robert Rosenstein, Michael Kenny Year Founded: 2005
Agoda is another aggregation site, offering hotels, flights, cars, airport transfers, and much more. Since May 2018, users can also book long-term stays (i.e., apartments) via the platform. Naturally, most of those apartments are located in Asia, which remains Agoda’s strong suit.
Over two million properties are currently listed on the platform of which around 10 percent are apartments. However, much like Booking and Expedia, Agoda began as a site on which travelers could book hotels.
This is partially grounded in the background of its founder Michael Kenny. He first came to Thailand in 1994 to work for the Arcadia Hotel Group, which is now part of Hilton Hotels. In 1997, he branched out on his own by launching PlanetHoliday.com, the first hotel reservation site dedicated to Southeast Asia.
Six years later, he launched a hotel reservation software dubbed PrecisionReservations.com. In 2005, he merged those two sites to create Agoda.com, which he ultimately sold to Priceline (now Booking Holdings) for an undisclosed amount in 2007.
Agoda also had its fair share of troubles in the past. The site, in 2019, together with Expedia, trivago, and other sites, committed to clean up its platform after it was accused of hidden fees, pressure selling, misleading discounts, and a plethora of other claims.
Booking Holdings does currently not disclose revenue numbers of Agoda, which employs over 4,000 people in 30 countries.
Headquarters: Shanghai, China Founder(s): James Liang, Min Fan, Neil Shen, Travis Katz Year Founded: 1999
Trip.com Group is the Chinese equivalent to Booking and Expedia, owning various other properties including Ctrip and Skyscanner (for which it paid $1.6 billion). Travelers can book anything from accommodations (hotels, houses, apartments, etc.), flights, trains, cars, tours, cruises, activities, and much more.
In fact, over 1.2 million accommodations are available on the platform on top of the 480 bookable airlines. Those accommodations and flights are booked by the 450 million registered members on the platform.
Trip.com initially launched as Ctrip and solely focused on the Chinese travel market. Former Oracle software engineer James Liang and his co-founders essentially created the first locally-focused site for Chinese travelers – similar to what both Agoda and Booking did in their respective countries.
China’s rising economic power and the thus wealthier population eventually allowed Ctrip to go public on the Nasdaq stock exchange in 2003. Decades later, in 2017, Ctrip acquired Trip.com, which at the time boasted 3.5 million registered members. Two years after, Ctrip changed its name to Trip.com Group to highlight the firm’s wider international ambitions.
In 2021, Trip.com generated $1.1 billion in revenue. Recently, the firm became the first publicly-traded company in China to implement a hybrid work-from-home policy, which is an impressive feat considering it employs close to 34,000 people.
It has to be noted, though, that Airbnb announced the closure of its China business back in May 2022. Nevertheless, it competes against Trip.com in the 200 other countries the holding company is active in.
Headquarters: Needham, Massachusetts Founder(s): Stephen Kaufer, Langley Steinert Year Founded: 2000
Users on TripAdvisor can rate anything travel-related including airlines, destinations, hotels, or restaurants. The platform, in January 2022, crossed its one-billionth review since it was founded.
However, that kind of relevancy wasn’t always guaranteed. TripAdvisor was launched as a search engine that sites like AOL could embed into their own products. The founders, due to 9/11 and the bursting of the tech bubble, didn’t close even one contract 1.5 years into the business.
Luckily, the team had created the TripAdvisor.com website as a demo to show those prospective clients what the search engine could look like. As time went on, more and more people began posting reviews on TripAdvisor, which eventually amassed enough traffic to become self-sustaining.
The founders began to monetize that traffic by placing ads across the platform and working with hotels and restaurants on lead generation. These days, TripAdvisor makes money via a plethora of sources including subscriptions, cost-per-click advertising, listing fees, and more.
In 2004, IAC (now Expedia) paid $210 million to acquire TripAdvisor. Seven years after, TripAdvisor spun out from Expedia and became an independent company listed on the Nasdaq stock exchange.
Ten years later, TripAdvisor finally became somewhat of a threat to Airbnb. It launched its Instant Booking feature, which enables customers to purchase hotels or flight tickets directly on the platform.
TripAdvisor is certainly a formidable competitor to Airbnb as well. Over one million vacation rentals are currently listed on the platform. Those are aided by the extensive number of reviews TripAdvisor has managed to amass.
In 2021, TripAdvisor generated $902 million in annual revenue (most of it from advertising). The platform, which employs over 2,500 people, offers reviews on almost 9 million accommodations, restaurants, experiences, airlines, and cruises.
Headquarters: Düsseldorf, Germany Founder(s): Malte Siewert, Peter Vinnemeier, Rolf Schromgens Year Founded: 2005
trivago features apartments, cars, flights, hotels, and travel packages. The platform lists over five million apartments and hotels. It expanded into Airbnb’s turf back in 2014 when it introduced the ability to search for rooms and apartments.
It does so by directly working together with sites like Expedia and Vrbo and surfacing their inventory. However, it also directly works together with some partners, more precisely hotel chains and airlines.
trivago is currently majority-owned by Expedia, which invested $632 million in 2012 to acquire an ownership stake of 61.6 percent. Four years later, trivago became the first Germany-headquartered company to list on the Nasdaq stock exchange.
In 2021, the firm generated €361 million (~ $378 million) in annual revenue. It, furthermore, employs over 1,000 people, most of whom are based in Germany. trivago also sponsors some absolute heavy hitters including Chelsea FC (since 2021).
However, not everything has always been going according to plan. In April 2022, the Australian government imposed a fine of $32.6 million after trivago misled consumers about hotel prices on its platform.
Headquarters: Dallas, Texas Founder(s): David Litman, Robert Diener Year Founded: 1991
Hotels.com offers travelers to book hotels, resorts, and vacation rentals on top of cars and activities. However, the platform does currently not disclose how many properties are listed on Hotels.com.
Barry Diller’s IAC acquired Hotels.com back in 2001. Ten years prior, the firm launched as the Hotel Reservations Network (HRN) where customers could book hotels via toll-free calls.
However, Hotels.com only became Hotels.com back in 2002. IAC allegedly poured $11 million into acquiring the valuable domain name. three years after, IAC rebranded into the Expedia Group, which currently owns Hotels.com.
Hotels.com has also been embroiled in some controversies. In 2007, it was subject to a class-action lawsuit that accused the firm of discriminating against people with disabilities. The firm was later found guilty on one of those charges.
Expedia, just like all the other firms on this list, chooses to not break down revenue figures for Hotels.com. The company itself currently employs over 1,000 people, most of whom are based in the United States.
10. OYO Rooms
Headquarters: Gurgaon, Haryana, India Founder(s): Ritesh Agarwal Year Founded: 2012
OYO, short for “own your own,” is a technologically-enabled hotel chain. The platform works together with smaller hoteliers who adopt the firm’s branding and stylization standards. Currently, over 157,000 hotels in 35 countries are available on the platform.
The idea to offer a standardized hotel experience came to Ritesh Agarwal when he backpacked through his home country of India but was ultimately frustrated with the lack of reliability and predictability.
Instead of attending college, he launched the company right out of high school. He was able to do so by being accepted into the Thiel Foundation (run by PayPal founder Peter Thiel), which provided him with $100,000 in seed capital.
He quickly grew the company into one of India’s hottest startups and managed to raise over $3.1 billion in funding.
However, the firm has also been accused of various malpractices. These include rooms rented out by unlicensed hotels, withholding payments to hoteliers, inflating its numbers to raise bigger funding rounds, and a few more.
The firm, on top of that, had to recently postpone its IPO, citing global market volatility as the main reason.
Revenue for 2021 was equal to 40 billion Indian rupees (~ $550 million). OYO, furthermore, employs over 5,000 people in total.
Headquarters: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil Founder(s): José Eduardo Mendes, João Ricardo Rangel Mendes Year Founded: 2011
Hurb, formerly known as Hotel Urbano, is South America’s largest travel-based metasearch engine. More than 20 million people have registered on the platform thus far. On top of that, its site is followed by 12 million people on Facebook alone.
The company competes with Airbnb across hotels, resorts, as well as activities. Hundreds of thousands of hotels are currently featured on Hurb, most of which are based across Latin America. However, the firm has since expanded into other countries as well.
Hurb is also one of the only independent firms on this list that hasn’t been scooped up by the two holding giants. Instead, it has raised $135 million in venture funding to help the firm remain independent.
Nevertheless, Booking Holdings has been one of its major investors after pouring $60 million into the company at a valuation of $500 million (back in 2017). The firm, much like Airbnb, is still led by its founder João Ricardo Rangel Mendes who started the company with his brother.
Headquarters: Berlin, Germany Founder(s): Nils Regge, Patrick Andrae, Wolfgang Heigl Year Founded: 2014
HomeToGo is another Germany-based aggregation site. Much like trivago, it sources listings from a variety of sites including Booking.com or Vrbo, among others. Customers on HomeToGo can book anything from apartments all the way to farmhouses or castles.
In fact, the marketplace claims that it offers the largest selection of vacation rentals across the globe. 15 million properties are currently listed on HomeToGo. However, the firm does not list properties from Airbnb.
HomeToGo, furthermore, operates local booking platforms in 25 countries across the globe. Its acquisitions, for example, include Casamundo or EscapadaRural.
The site also owns Wimdu, which was back in 2011 as a direct competitor of Airbnb. German investor Rocket poured tens of millions into establishing the platform but ultimately fell short.
HomeToGo’s investors have poured a combined $176.7 million into the marketplace, which went public in September 2021. That same year, the company, which employs over 400 people, recorded $105 million in revenue.
13. Plum Guide
Headquarters: London, United Kingdom Founder(s): Alex Lee, Arif Meharali, Doron Meyassed, Imran Arshed, Will Smith Year Founded: 2015
Plum Guide separates itself from Airbnb and other platforms by only letting the absolute best properties on its platform.
The firm has created the so-called Plum Test, which assesses each property based on 150 checkpoints. A Plum Guide employee will personally visit the property to finalize the check. As a result, only 3 percent of all applicants are accepted to list on Plum Guide.
Additionally, Plum Guide currently features properties in over 500 destinations across 29 countries. Naturally, the properties on its platform also cost substantially more on average compared to Airbnb.
Over 500,000 homes have been vetted by the platform thus far. Investors certainly like the quality-focused approach and have poured a combined $60 million into the firm.
Headquarters: Gurgaon, India Founder(s): Deep Kalra, Keyur Joshi, Rajesh Magow, Sachin Bhatia Year Founded: 2000
MakeMyTrip pioneered online travel for Indian consumers. The firm initially targeted U.S.-based Indian immigrants and provided them with the ability to book flights and hotels for their home vacations. The platform has since expanded into buses, trains, holiday packages, charter flights, and homestays.
In 2010, MakeMyTrip went public on the Nasdaq stock exchange, raising $70 million in the process. The firm has raised close to $750 million on top of that. Portions of that money have been used to gobble up competitors such as redBus.
These days, MakeMyTrip tries to become an all-encompassing travel solution for both consumers as well as business travelers. To that extent, the firm offers its own branded credit card.
In 2021, MakeMyTrip generated $163 million in annual revenue, which represents a sharp decline from the $500 million it generated the year prior. The firm, which employs over 5,000 people, has been hit particularly hard by the Covid-19 pandemic (since India struggled greatly with containing the virus).
Headquarters: San Francisco, California Founder(s): Alyssa Ravasio, Eric Bach Year Founded: 2013
The last company on this list is Hipcamp, which focuses on surfacing outdoor stays including tent camping, RV parks, cabins, treehouses, and glamping.
CEO and co-founder Alyssa Ravasio created the site after she became frustrated with the lack of camping options in California. What she quickly discovered was that 30 percent of all of California’s State Park area was threatened by closure because the sites weren’t making enough money.
She decided to attend a 10-week coding bootcamp and created the first version of Hipcamp not long after. A year later, her current co-founder Eric Bach joined her on the mission to revive the nation’s camping areas.
5.5+ million people are now part of Hipcamp, which has raised $97.5 million in funding to see its vision through. Over 200 people are now employed by the company on a full-time basis.
Hipcamp, just like Airbnb, offers an extensive insurance coverage of $1 million that protects hosts from any potential damage to their site.
Airbnb Competitive Advantage
Airbnb possesses various competitive advantages including brand recognition, a vast supply of apartments, and offering a human-centric design that minimizes friction.
As previously acknowledged, Airbnb is an online marketplace that connects buyers (= travelers) with sellers (= hosts).
Key to establishing a flourishing marketplace is to ensure sufficient liquidity, meaning there are enough options available for every potential query a customer might have.
In the case of Airbnb, it works together with four million hosts who collectively offer six million apartments. It is, furthermore, available in over 100,000 cities across the globe.
As a result, a customer will likely find a sufficient option for almost any query he or she might have. This increases the likelihood of Airbnb getting that sale.
Additionally, it generally leads to a better user experience since customers can have that demand fulfilled without leaving the platform, which reinforces its positive network effects.
Creating such an extensive supply is anything but easy. Sure, many of its hosts are also offering their properties on competing platforms.
However, it wouldn’t be unfathomable to assume that a significant portion of the houses on Airbnb are solely listed on the platform, which further aids the uniqueness of available options. Airbnb can literally fulfill any kind of demand, whether it’s a treehouse in the Alaskan woods or a beach house on a remote island.
Those unique properties also act as a sort of marketing vehicle for the platform. It can present them across a variety of channels, which consequently leads to heightened interest and promotes inspiration among travelers.
This, in turn, contributes to Airbnb’s already strong brand. In fact, 90 percent of Airbnb’s traffic is direct and thus unpaid.
In contrast, platforms such as Booking or Expedia have to spend billions of dollars to acquire traffic via Google and other paid channels.
Having a high share of direct traffic, therefore, helps to vastly improve the firm’s margins. Airbnb, furthermore, contributes to its already strong brand by being socially conscious.
In late 2021, for example, the firm committed to providing housing for tens of thousands of Afghan refugees. It has done the same for refugees of the Ukraine war.
However, all of that brand admiration wouldn’t amount to much if the product itself wasn’t good. One of the first ways with which Airbnb separated itself from the pack was by focusing on high-resolution and accurate images of its listings, which vastly increased conversion rates.
The company, in the past, has also held various events for its hosts to help them improve their performance on the platform. It also organized keynotes and lectures where it invited experienced operators from the hospitality industry who would provide hosts with tips and tricks they learned in the hotel industry.
Apart from helping its hosts to optimize their listings, the Airbnb platform itself is also extremely easy to navigate.
The company utilizes the same core principles that have made marketplaces like Amazon so successful. For example, you can now book a listing within less than three clicks, which vastly decreases friction and thus optimizes sales.
Lastly, Airbnb remains true to that very same user experience. The site has largely remained the same over its existence, which ensures a consistent user experience that’s unique across the travel industry.