Over half of all Airbnb listings can now be found in Europe but the engineers that build and operate the platform will remain on the other side of the Atlantic for the foreseeable future, Techworld learned today.

Airbnb, an online community marketplace for people to list, discover, and book accommodation around the world, started out in San Francisco but today more than 58 percent of Airbnb listings can be found in Europe.

Airbnb's office in London is in a Shoreditch loft conversion ©Techworld/Sam Shead
Airbnb's office in London is in a Shoreditch loft conversion ©Techworld/Sam Shead

The company, which takes a 6-12 percent cut from guests and charges hosts 3 percent for complete bookings, is growing rapidy, recently announcing that 30 million people have stayed in a property listed on its platform.

“Europe is our biggest region,” said Airbnb’s general manager for UK & Ireland, James McClure , adding that 33,000 properties in the UK are now registered on the platform.

“We’re in a stage of growth where things are up and to the right,” he told Techworld at the company’s Shoreditch office today, where roughly 20 people work.

But Airbnb’s strong presence in Europe isn’t necessarily down to marketing and advertising. 

McClure added: “If you look at the travel market in general, France is one of the top destinations. [Also,] Spain and Italy. It’s more of a reflection of where people want to go."

Properties on Airbnb range from £5 per night to £5,000 per night and therefore suit everyone’s budget, according to McClure, who revealed today that he himself is currently residing in an Airbnb property.

Much of the company’s growth has come through “word of mouth”, but the firm, which has been backed by 18 investors with $795 million (£522 million), is hoping to gain more users in the UK through a digital advertising campaign that is being launched today around how Airbnb can fit around people’s passions, be it romance, exploration or business.

Engineers stay put

While Airbnb has racked up over 500,000 property listings in Europe, the company still does all of its product development and engineering out of its San Francisco headquarters, despite the fact that software developers routinely demand six-figure salaries there, typically costing up to three times as much to hire there than in London. 

“At this stage all the engineering product work is done in San Francisco and I expect that to continue for the foreseeable future,” said McClure.

Employees at the Airbnb office in London focus on areas such as marketing, brand perception, partnerships and public policy.

Airbnb’s public policy team is looking to work with the UK government on the creation of new sharing economy regulations to ensure that businesses like itself and Uber operate safely and fairly, while also delivering maximum economic impact.

Debbie Wosskow, CEO of Love Home Swap, a company similar to Airbnb, has been tasked with leading a report on the social and economic impact of companies tapping into the sharing economy. 

Londoners get a boost

London-based Airbnb hosts got a minor boost this week as government ministers unveiled reforms that will allow them to rent out their homes, flats or spare bedrooms for less than three months a year. 

Currently, homeowners in London have to let their properties out for over three months at a time, under the Greater London Council Act 1973, unless they have planning permission.

Londoners renting out their properties for short stays, without planning permission, risk being fined up to £20,000.

According to Airbnb, a typical host in the UK earns £2,822 a year by letting their property for 33 days.

The Communities Department found that this law was being inconsistently enforced (particularly during the London 2012 Olympics), leading to confusion and uncertainty for homeowners. 

Housing minister Brandon Lewis said: "We live in the 21st century, and London homeowners should be able to rent out their home for a short period without having to pay for a council permit. These laws date from the long-gone era of the GLC, and need to be updated for the internet age.

"We are putting in some common sense measures to protect local amenity, whilst allowing Londoners who go on holiday to make a bit of extra money by renting out their home whilst they are away."

However, there is also a tax issue that is yet to be properly addressed. In many cities those renting out holiday accommodation are expected to pay a hotel or tourist tax but Airbnb hosts have been known to ignore this.