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Airbnb confronts an unusual marketing challenge

Tim Fitzsimons Dec 9, 2014
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Airbnb, the home sharing website, is now by some measures the largest lodging provider in the world. It’s valued at over $10 billion and has a million listings  that’s about 300,000 more than the number of beds of either Hilton or Marriott.

Bob Thorson rents out his Washington, D.C., apartment while he’s out of the city. Guests find his place online, pay $130 a night, and get a cool apartment in one of the city’s trendiest neighborhoods. But once you’re inside, there’s nothing that indicates it was rented through Airbnb.

Andrew Schapiro, head of brand creative teams at Airbnb, says he recognized that disconnect.

“Every day hundreds of thousands of people are traveling on Airbnb and staying in homes all over the world,” Schapiro says. “How do we actually share stories of those people who are on those travel adventures?”

So this winter, Airbnb will publish its first issue of “Pineapple,” a magazine that will be sent to hosts and bookstores around the world. It will contain stories from three of its most popular cities: San Francisco, London, and Seoul. Pineapple is an effort to address what other companies in the so-called sharing economy have faced when they make it big: moving their online success into real-world brand loyalty.

“It kind of expresses how Airbnb can fit into the greater travel landscape, and that’s part of the issue. People have some sense of Airbnb in general, but not really how it fits in,” says Bjorn Hanson, a hospitality professor at NYU.

The area where Airbnb and its hosts still haven’t figured out where they fit in is with the law. New York’s attorney general has set his sights on the company, which he says enables hosts to violate zoning and hotel laws. In fact, it was hard to find an Airbnb host willing to be interviewed. They said they worry about breaking the law, breaking their lease, their condo board rules, or just about irritating their neighbors.

Thorson owns his place, but some of his fellow host friends are renters. When asked what they do, Thorson says, “They try to skirt it. They just hope that they don’t get found out.”

So guests will soon be able to flip through Pineapple to plan their next travel adventure, even if their hosts would prefer that nobody find out that they’re there.

 

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