This post should really be titled: Airbnb won’t play nicely with metasearch engines
After posting my review of peer-to-peer lodging metasearch engines, featuring my recommendation that people use the ones that include Airbnb in their search, someone behind the scenes at one of these companies reached out to me to explain that most sites displaying Airbnb properties are probably doing this without the consent of Airbnb. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing if Airbnb doesn’t mind getting free referrals, and if the search sites have come up with good algorithms to accurately scrape the Airbnb lodging data. However, as I explained after putting my metasearch recommendations to the test, these sites aren’t pulling in complete Airbnb data. For me this makes the peer-to-peer rental lodging metasearch engines far less useful.
The problem seems to be that the biggest company in peer-to-peer rental lodging, Airbnb, isn’t playing nicely with metasearch engines. They are not only refusing to partner with these sites, as of January 1, 2016 Airbnb terminated their third party affiliate program for all partners except Hipmunk. It seems Airbnb has decided they have sufficient name recognition and market domination that they don’t need to pay others for referrals. They are assuming people looking for peer-to-peer rentals will come directly to Airbnb.com, keeping all the profits for themselves rather than sharing a percentage with the referring site.
I can’t be sure that all the metasearch engines including Airbnb listings are doing so without an affiliate agreement. But a close look at the search results for these sites reveals that they don’t include the search engine name in the URL, suggesting there’s no way for Airbnb to track a referral back, and so there’s no payment being made. This, plus the inaccuracy of the results, strongly suggests there’s no formal arrangement.
Is Airbnb right that they don’t need third party referrals? Well I certainly think of them before any other peer-to-peer rental site. And even when I do search on multiple sites I find the best deals on Airbnb so I rarely use another one for a rental. I know this is not the case in every country in the world, but so far it’s been true everywhere I’ve searched. In fact, Airbnb is right that by refusing to participate in metasearch aggregation they are more likely to get my business. It’s an extra step to search on both the smaller sites and Airbnb, so when I’m feeling lazy I go with the one that has been most successful for me in the past: Airbnb.
With peer to peer lodging still in its infancy there are a lot of new players trying to get in on the metasearch profit train. If you can build a good metasearch engine AND convince the sites to participate by giving you a referral fee, you can make serious money without doing much work after the site is up and running. At this point it might take another big player taking a significant chunk of the peer-to-peer rental market away from Airbnb to convince them to work with metasearch engines directly. Or maybe an innovative metasearch engine could prove sufficiently useful to consumers that they pull traffic away from Airbnb and force the company to reconsider their referral policy. Until then, I still recommend using metasearch engines to look through the multitude of peer-to-peer rental sites, but you’ll need to search Airbnb separately.