Going Mobile

As Rumors About a $2B Valuation Swirl, Airbnb Sees Mobile Traffic Double

Funny how these positive stats seem to come out right around the same time as news about a company seeking funding.
 As Rumors About a $2B Valuation Swirl, Airbnb Sees Mobile Traffic Double

Mr. Vilcsak and what we have to presume is a fake mustache. (Photo: Twitter)

Despite New York’s recent crackdown on illegal hoteliers–which has put the tech-friendly city at odds with successful travel startups–Airbnb has continued to grow at an impressive rate. The San Francisco-based room rental company is reportedly seeking a fresh $100M round at a valuation of $2-3B, an astronomical number given the company’s run-ins with local ordinances and apartment-ruining nightmares.

But despite those minor setbacks, Airbnb has continued to see a significant uptick in travelers who opt to use its services instead of sketchy hostels or expensive hotels. One of the ways in which the company has managed to secure market dominance is by building out a robust mobile experience that caters to the immediacy necessary to on-the-go planning.

In fact, as Airbnb’s mobile platform lead Andrew Vilcsak told Betabeat by phone yesterday, 26 percent of traffic to Airbnb.com comes from mobile devices. Of that 26 percent, 12 percent comes from the Airbnb iPhone app, 8 percent comes from mobile websites and 6 percent from iPads. By comparison, the average website sees 20 percent of its traffic directed from mobile.

“Making sure we have a consistent experience across mobile is huge,” Mr. Vilcsak told us. “I think the reason it’s exceptionally important for us is because travel is an inherently mobile thing. When you’re on-the-go, you don’t have access to your laptop. It’s all mobile access. So we’ve seen some incredible adoption with our mobile apps and on our mobile website.”

Mr. Vilcsak said that in 2011, Airbnb was receiving 12 percent of its website traffic from mobile, so it’s more than doubled in the last year.

“Every five seconds somebody is sending an Airbnb message thorugh mobile,” he added. “Last month over 530,000 messages were sent through mobile.” Because the user experience hinges on messaging, Mr. Vilcsak said, having a unified mobile experience allows users to respond to messages quickly and easily.

Plus, the Airbnb iPhone app isn’t just a marketplace for bookings–it also taps into our aspirational id. With the recent launch of Wishlist, users can aggregate a Pinterest-like inspiration board of places they’d like to travel, collecting photos of interesting Airbnb spots and vacation rentals.

“With Wishlist we wanted to create an experience that was more editorialized than the traditional Airbnb experience,” said Emily Joffrion, a communciations rep at Airbnb. “It stopped being transcational and it became more about immersing yourself in these unique spaces from all around the world and being able to express your creativity through Airbnb.”

“I think that the mobile adoption that we’re seeing here is a really strong indicator of things to come,” she added. “People need mobile sites on-the-go, but once they started learning that [mobile usage] behavior, I think it’s something that will happen to other industries.”

Follow Jessica Roy on Twitter or via RSS. jroy@observer.com