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Published 01 November 2012 15:11, Updated 02 November 2012 11:29
Online room-renting service Airbnb is finally opening an office in Sydney Australia to increase the company’s local listings.
The company’s co-founder, savvy tech entrepreneur Brian Chesky, is in Australia to get to know the local market and potentially lure new investors. It already has the backing of Hollywood heart-throb Ashton Kutcher who last year made a big investment in the company and joined as a “trusted strategic adviser”.
Airbnb was set up by Chesky and Joe Gebbia in 2008 when the pair decided to rent out their San Francisco apartment for a design conference and turned it into a business. The other co-founder Nathan Blecharczyk, later joined as the technical brains behind the concept. The online service is disrupting the travel industry by allowing people across the world to connect and rent rooms out at a fraction of the cost of a hotel.
Airbnb charges a small percentage of the rental price from the traveller and landlord, and as of June this year, had 10 million guest nights booked through its site to date. In July last year, the company raised an additional $112 million and was valued at more than $1 billion.
Australians have proved to be a huge market for the service and account for more than 1 million guest nights booked on Airbnb worldwide and has shown 200 per cent growth this year. “In any given night, we have 3000 Aussies staying somewhere in the world on Airbnb,” says Chesky.
More than 1 million guest nights booked by Australians travelling overseas constitute about 10 per cent of the 10 million guest nights to date, which on a per capita basis, makes Australia an attractive market. “We’re in 190 countries,” he says. “In a country of only 22 million people, 10 per cent means Australia is becoming increasingly popular.”
At the same time, Australia has proved a popular destination for foreign users of Airbnb. “It turns out Australia is one of the most popular countries in world for travellers,” says Chesky. “Tonight 1000 people are sleeping in this country from around the world on Airbnb. The number staying here [in Australia] would have been 150 just a year ago.”
The Australian office will be headed by technology investor Donald Stalter and will be based in Ultimo, Sydney. Initially it will have a small team but Chesky says it will be recruiting local talent once the operation expands.
“The primary reason we’ve opened an office here is we want to go where our community is,” Chesky says. “This is something that we’ve been thinking about for long time and want to offer our support to our local community.”
While the number of Australian listings are also growing – they were up 110 per cent over the year with more than 5000 listings – this is where the company has much room to grow.
Most Airbnb hosts in Australia rent out their place occasionally and make about $US3000 a year, with those who rent their place regularly making more than $US10,000 a year. The average age of Airbnb hosts in Australia is 43 and nearly two-thirds are women.
Chesky says there’s some work to be done to increase the number of people hosting in Australia and the company will be working with Tourism Australia closely.
“The primary reason of the trip is to learn about Australian and Sydney culture,” he says. “We want to be local and best way to do that is learn locally [so] we want to get more hosts in Australia.”
The company ran into some trouble last year when one of the hosts overseas had their home trashed by a traveller but Chesky says they’ve learnt from the mistake of not having enough security and now offer hosts free insurance for theft and vandalism.
Chesky has a long-term target of getting Airbnb in every country around the world. “Travel is about to see a massive change, massive disruption,” he says. “And its not just about Airbnb; it’s about the fact that people now want to explore the world and connect with people online.”