New deals help Airbnb target business travelers

With growing demand from business travelers—and increasing restrictions in top markets—Airbnb is finding new ways to capture a lucrative demographic. Photo credit: Airbnb

As part of an overarching goal to develop "an end-to-end travel platform that combines where you stay, what you do, and how you get there, all in one place," Airbnb has announced plans to acquire Urbandoor, an online marketplace for booking long-term stays at furnished and serviced apartments. The financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Backed by rental housing company Greystar Real Estate Partners and founded by Erik Eccles, Benjamin Renaud, and Zack Chandler in 2015, Urbandoor now has a presence in more than 1,500 cities in more than 60 countries. 

The two companies serve similar markets in different ways. While Airbnb can work with individual homeowners, Urbandoor negotiates directly with multifamily owners, working with big real estate companies (like Greystar) and convincing building owners, not renters, that extended-stay rentals are a beneficial proposition, as TechCrunch put it. While the company did not disclose its exact portfolio size, it did say that it connects users "to millions of long-term, furnished apartments."

A statement on Airbnb's website noted the popularity of serviced apartments for longer stays, particularly for business travelers, combining the elements of a home with the perks of a hotel, including fitness spaces, pools and concierge services. "Bringing more of these places to stay to Airbnb will strengthen Airbnb for Work’s engagement with the more than 500,000 companies who use Airbnb for Work to help manage their business travel," the company claimed in the statement. 

Bob Faith, Greystar's founder/chairman/CEO, said the union of the two companies would create "a seamless, global online corporate housing marketplace." Greystar, he added, is "focused on aligning with innovative firms, such as Airbnb. Airbnb and the sharing economy are here to stay and we are looking forward to collaborating with Airbnb to find additional ways to create value for our clients and enhance our resident experience."

"Joining the Airbnb family will help us make good on our goals and expand our work with multifamily and corporate housing partners,” said Urbandoor co-founder Erik Eccles.

If You Can't Beat 'Em, Acquire 'Em

Airbnb’s acquisition of Urbandoor comes four months after the home-sharing giant invested in Lyric, a San Francisco-based real estate and hospitality company that designs, installs and operates full floors of apartments in residential buildings. Lyric's apartments then become "anchor tenants" in these buildings, collaborating with landlords rather than with individual renters. 

This move seems to follow in a similar vein, working alongside the property owners—a move that could help ease the legal challenges Airbnb has encountered in cities and countries around the world. In January, for example, the Irish government announced limits on how long Airbnb rooms can be rented. In September, Edinburgh, Scotland's city council called for a license limiting Airbnb rentals to 45 nights per year, in addition to a levy on tourists of £1 per person per night. More recently, Amsterdam’s city government proposed a ban on accommodations-sharing platforms in three areas of the city, in part because of the impact on the city’s housing market and what it describes as “social cohesion.”

The Lyric, Urbandoor and Hotel Tonight deals—not to mention the recent investment in India's Oyo—could help Airbnb get around restrictions like these and stay profitable in markets that are disinclined to promote home-sharing.

"Airbnb is partnering with property owners, developers and residents to support hosting around the world," said Greg Greeley, president of Homes at Airbnb. "With the Urbandoor team, we’re looking forward to building on this work by developing new technology to benefit the real estate community and improve the guest booking experience for business travelers and anyone relocating or staying for extended periods of time."

According to TechCrunch, Airbnb for Work accounts for 15 percent of all bookings on the platform, and tripled in size from 2015 to 2016, and again from 2016 to 2017. An estimated half-million companies use the service to plan their business travel, Airbnb claimed in late July. A new "toggle" on the platform prioritizes accommodations geared toward business travelers, including boutique hotels. 

All Urbandoor employees will join Airbnb, and Urbandoor listings for long-term stays will, over time, be bookable through the Airbnb platform.