On Sunday, Airbnb chief executive Brian Chesky shared some news on Twitter: Airbnb now has 1 million homes on its platform, and is adding more than 20,000 new ones each week.
While Chesky’s tweet isn’t anything groundbreaking, 1 million homes is a lot. For the sake of comparison, InterContinental Hotels Group—the owner of brands such as Holiday Inn and InterContinental, and one of the world’s largest hotel companies—said at the end of September that it has 4,760 hotels globally, for a total of 697,048 rooms. Airbnb’s figure, if true, is much greater than that. Even so, hardly anyone in the press seems to have taken note. And maybe that’s notable.
Compare the media’s treatment of Airbnb to its recent handling of Uber, which it treats like both the golden boy and the enfant terrible of the “sharing economy.” Uber can hardly budge without eliciting a flood of press coverage. Over the past week, stories on Uber included, but were not limited to, its new $40 billion valuation, its launch in Portland, Oregon, without the approval of local regulators, a ban it received in the Netherlands, and another ban in Delhi after one of its drivers was accused of raping a passenger.
As for Airbnb’s last week: The San Jose City Council is set to pass a plan on Tuesday that would tax Airbnb rentals at the same rate as hotel rooms and legalize the “home-sharing” arrangement. A column in the New York Times scrutinized it for offloading the risk of renting apartments onto its homeowners. But it’s not by any means under the same kind of microscope as Uber.
How is it that Uber can’t catch a break, while Airbnb can quietly announce a major, if largely psychological, milestone? It might be as simple as culture. In a column for Harvard Business Review last month, Arun Sundararajan, a professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business and expert on the sharing economy, observed that Airbnb has invested in “creating community and a feeling of partnership” whereas Uber “unfailingly appears to place distance between the platform and its providers.” Put another way: Airbnb tries to come to cities as a friendly new neighbor, Uber more often than not as a conquerer.
Airbnb, of course, has its share of controversies and, as Jessica Pressler detailed in New York magazine, is fighting long, drawn-out wars in cities like New York. But for a company that has 1 million homes and counting, it’s also flown remarkably below the radar—and Uber might want to think about taking a page from its book.