A small number of hosts who treat Airbnb as a full-time profession are responsible for a disproportionate share of the site’s revenue, according to a study the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AH&LA) commissioned from faculty at Penn State University’s School of Hospitality and Management and whose findings the AH&LA released on Jan. 20.
This activity can be summed up in five findings from the report:
• Full-time hosts represent 3.3% of hosts and generate 28.5% of revenue;
• Multiple-unit operators account for 40% of Airbnb revenue;
• Multiple-unit operators are responsible for $500 million of $1.3 billion in revenue in the top 12 markets;
• Hosts that rent three or more units represent 7% of hosts yet generate 25% of revenue;
• Hosts who rent more than one unit are the fastest growing segment of hosts on the site.
The Penn State research, which it conducted using data from Airdna and the assistance of Kalibri Labs research company, focused not on the hosts “trying to make ends meet,” as Airbnb argues are the norm on the site, but the hosts who rent out more than one unit or rent out their units full-time. Data used in the report was collected between September 2014 and September 2015 in the 12 largest U.S. markets.
The use of Airdna data gives the report a better understanding of behavior and revenue than other reports have been able to determine. Over the past year, Airbnb has made it more difficult for people to see when hosts have more than one listing on the service, but data-scraping is better able to link hosts with their listings both within one market and multiple markets.
The share of revenue from these super hosts varies from market to market, with Miami leading all cities at 61.3% and Phoenix at the bottom as the only market where this share is in the single digits, at 5.5%
“What we found was an alarming trend: Professional operators are growing in every single market we studied, and while they are a small proportion of hosts, they generate a disproportionately large share of revenue,” said O’Neill. “Multiple unit operators account for nearly 40 percent of revenue, and that translates to over $500 million of the $1.3 billion in revenues Airbnb generated in the 12 cities analyzed during the course of our study.”
It’s worth noting that the study does not call out Airbnb for facilitating rentals in large-scale illegal hotels, which is an accusation frequently leveled at the service by its critics.
Rather, it argues that the most successful and valuable hosts on the site are a rapidly growing class of micro-entrepreneurs that are almost always in violation of local laws meant to restrict short-term rentals in cities with housing challenges. Full-time hosting is illegal in nearly every city Penn State faculty studied, yet it still accounts for more than one fourth of Airbnb’s revenues.