• Airbnb buys Accomable

Airbnb has acquired Accomable, known as the Airbnb for disabled people, for an undisclosed fee, a move set to further broaden its appeal.

The move came as Airbnb put a rental cap on hosts in the centre of Paris, as it continues to work to become part of the accommodation mainstream ahead of its IPO, mooted for next year.

Accomable allows homeowners to rent out all or part of their properties, with the sites, verified for accessibility. The platform has more than 1,100 listings in 60 countries. It was founded in 2015, by Srin Madipalli and Martyn Sibley – two friends with Spinal Muscular Atrophy who have travelled all over the world. Frustrated by the difficulty of finding accessible places to stay and reliable information, Accomable was launched to make it easier for everyone to travel, regardless of disability.

Madipalli, Accomable CEO & co-founder, said: “Accomable started less as a company or a product but more as a mission and a dream. A mission to open up travel and adventure to hundreds of millions of disabled people; and a dream that one day, I, as a disabled person could travel the world just like everybody else.

“The Accomable team and I have spent considerable time with Airbnb’s founding and senior management teams. During our time at Airbnb, we were left in no doubt that Airbnb shares our mission and we are convinced that joining Airbnb provides the best opportunity to take our dream and mission to a global level, using the current reach of Airbnb’s community of four million hosts and 100 million guests to work together and make the world more accessible.”

Madipalli will join Airbnb in San Francisco with the title of accessibility programme and product manager.

Airbnb added: “Srin and his team will be building on work that is underway to make the Airbnb experience better for everyone. Previously, travellers with disabilities could only search for homes that were labeled as ‘wheelchair accessible’ when they were searching for an accessible place to stay. Guests weren’t getting the information they needed to find the right homes, nor the confidence that the home they selected would actually be accessible for them.

“To help address this problem, we have been working on new ‘accessibility needs’ checklists for hosts. While Srin and his team haven’t been involved in the development of these new tools, we’re confident that they will make our community more accessible for everyone and we’re going to work to make them even stronger in the future.”

Robin Sheppard, chairman, Bespoke Hotels, told us: “I am absolutely delighted for Srin, the founder of Accomable who has fought so valiantly to turn his own disability into a product for the betterment of all disabled travellers.  Not only has he reversed into an organisation which will give his brilliant App significant bandwidth but he has got to move to America with all the benefits that that will bring.  I hope I can persuade him to turn his attentions to the hotel arena as well”.

Earlier this year Sheppard was appointed as one of 11 Sector Champions who will drive forward the UK government’s ambition to tackle the issues disabled people face as consumers.

The move to widen Airbnb’s appeal came as a report from Morgan Stanley found that growth in users of the platform has slowed, with the percentage of travellers using it in the preceding year up 3.3 percentage points to 25%, against last year’s growth rate of 8%. Morgan Stanley used this to cut its estimates for Airbnb users from 73 million to 40 million in 2020.

In Paris, Airbnb has imposed a rental cap of 120 nights a year in the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th arrondissements. The city is Airbnb’s largest destination and the platform said that it wanted “to be good partners to the city and help ensure home sharing grows responsibly and sustainably”. Ian Brossat, the housing advisor to the Paris Mayor, tweeted in response that Airbnb was still breaking rules in the other 16 arrondissements.

The 120-night rule was introduced in 2014 and anyone wishing to exceed it requires special authorisation.  From December, people renting their apartments on short-term rental websites such as Airbnb must register their property with the town hall.

The decision, which will show the remaining days available on a host’s listing, follows similar caps in London and Amsterdam.

HA Perspective [by Katherine Doggrell]: The hotel sector has been begging, lighting candles, casting runes, hiring legions of lawyers to try and curtail the expansion of Airbnb and Morgan Stanley has given it hope with the news that Airbnb is likely to have a mere 40 million users by 2020. Who can make money off 40 million users? Impossible. It is worth pointing out at this stage that Asia wasn’t factored in and we hear that particular region has a few residents exhibiting signs of wanderlust.

It’s certainly a home-from-home for investors. According to CBInsights, Airbnb is the second-most-valuable start-up in the US, behind Uber. Earlier this year, it raised an additional USD1bn, taking its valuation to USD30bn. Reports suggest that the platform reported USD1bn in revenue in the third quarter, double that in the same period last year.

As Airbnb trundles towards its IPO, which must be generating a fair amount of income for San Francisco’s more charming restaurants, the company is looking to expand its user base. And stop the one it does have from irritating the neighbours. Everything it can do to make itself more presentable when the books are finally opened and, with Laurence Tosi, former Blackstone Group CFO, in charge of the numbers, it should make sturdy reading. There should be no doubt that when the company decides to lift its skirts, those ankles will be well turned out.

But away from Harvey Weinstein and towards those other denizens of the fluffy bathrobe, the hotel companies. What type of threat does Airbnb pose? Marriott International and Airbnb are currently involved in a public hair-pulling contest, with Marriott’s CEO Arne Sorenson commenting in an interview with Fortune that the sharing platform was “spending a lot of money on government affairs and they’re playing pretty aggressive. I’ve had letters from Airbnb directly, demanding my response about some charge, I don’t even know what it is, within hours. That’s pretty aggressive, and I’m not going to respond to that.”

Airbnb’s head of public policy Josh Meltzer them sent a letter to Sorenson, asking him to explain to Americans “your industry’s habit of taking billions of dollars from taxpayers to subsidise the construction and operation of your hotels”.

The letter added that Sorenson was “unwilling and unable to defend your industry’s longstanding commitment to price gouging consumers, depressing wages and replacing workers with robots”.

So they’re not going to be sending each other a Christmas hamper.

While Jane Austen is unlikely to support this use of the postal service, it makes for high drama for the rest of the us. For the sector as a whole, Airbnb’s efforts to appease assorted jurisdictions is likely to see supply level off. Demand, too, will slow. But the platform is here to stay and any hotel without a strategy to compete will feel the impact.

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