Airbnb Scores Off London Olympics With Jump in Bookings

 

Photograph by Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

Airbnb added 6,000 London properties this year, including an event space inside the historic Tower Bridge.

Airbnb, a website for renting rooms in people’s homes, expects a three-fold increase in London rentals this summer as Olympics attendees skip pricey and crowded hotels to shack up with locals.

The site has 4,500 bookings in London covering the next three weeks, said Nathan Blecharczyk, the company’s chief technology officer and co-founder. That’s three times its average for the city, where rooms on average are being priced 25 percent higher than normal, he said.

Airbnb, based in San Francisco, aims to grow its international business, which now makes up more than half of revenue. This year, the company acquired London rival Crashpadder and struck a sponsorship deal with the London Evening Standard in the hopes that the Olympics would bring it new customers from around the world.

“Because they are coming from distant lands to the Olympics, and going back to their home countries, they are causing Airbnb to generate awareness in their home countries,” Blecharczyk said.

Airbnb lists 200,000 properties in 192 countries. More than half, or 105,000, are in Europe, while more than a quarter, or 55,000, are in the U.S.

By mid-July, with many London hotels fully booked, Olympics spectators and participants were scrambling to find last-minute accommodations.

“I was looking at monasteries, I was looking at colleges — every referral I could possibly get,” said Tamar Kummel, a New York-based massage therapist who traveled to London this month to work with the tennis players.

Kummel rented an apartment on Airbnb that was within a half-hour drive to the tennis courts in Wimbledon where she is working shifts of up to 12 hours each day. The room cost her 32 pounds (about $50) per night, compared with the 200 pounds ($310) she was quoted by some hotels that would have been farther from the event.

Airbnb added 6,000 London properties this year. Unusual accommodations on the site include a 57-foot canal boat moored in the pool at Little Venice for $208 per night; a three-bedroom penthouse overlooking the Thames for $176 a night; and an event space inside the historic Tower Bridge that can be rented for four hours in the evening for around $1,860.

Many of the new listings came from Crashpadder, a London-based rental site Airbnb acquired in March for an undisclosed amount. Last year, the company acquired German startup Statthotel as well as the team behind Accoleo, whose staff was brought on to run Airbnb’s first international office in Hamburg.

In addition to San Francisco and Hamburg, Airbnb now has offices in London, Paris, Milan, Barcelona, Copenhagen, Berlin, Moscow and Sao Paulo. In each, the startup employs local agents to help property owners take photos and upload them to the site, write descriptions of their rooms for rent, and manage a reservation calendar, Blecharczyk said.

“There is this huge momentum” in international markets, he said. “Over the last 10 months we have tried to foster this momentum and basically open offices that act as catalysts.”

Airbnb raised $112 million in venture funding last year. The poor performance of some newly public companies including Facebook Inc. have lowered Airbnb’s interest in holding an initial share sale, Blecharczyk said in an interview in June.

As it grows abroad, Airbnb is vying with other well-capitalized startups. Berlin-based rental site 9flats.com received funding last year from Redpoint Ventures. Wimdu GmbH, also based in Berlin, raised $90 million last year from investors including Rocket Internet, the incubator founded by German brothers Oliver, Marc, and Alexander Samwer.

Airbnb has a tradition of gaining users during big, destination events, such as Carnival in Rio de Janeiro and New Year’s Eve in New York. The site’s 2008 launch coincided with the Democratic National Convention in Denver, where Barack Obama accepted his nomination for president.

“That was the same story,” said Blecharczyk. “All these people wanted to participate in this historic event, and there was no place to stay.”

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