At first glance, hotel-booking giant Priceline Group and alternative accommodations hub Airbnb may not seem like obvious competitors. But as with all great rivalries, each company needs what the other has in abundance.
Unicorn and media-magnet Airbnb has always been great at communicating who it is and what it does. Airbnb brought hotel alternatives like mushroom dome cabins, treehouses, and your buddy’s San Francisco studio into the mainstream, leading it to a $25.5 billion valuation and a reputation as a hotel industry-killer. However, it more immediately challenges online travel agencies (like Priceline Group) and their $200 billion in annual bookings.
Priceline, meanwhile, is the Airbnb of 1999, all grown up. The once-buzzy company known for its commercials starring William Shatner faced hard times when the dot com bubble burst, but has since rebuilt itself into a massive $66 billion company with six core brands: Priceline.com, Open Table, Agoda, RentalCars.com, Kayak, and perhaps the most direct Airbnb competitor, Booking.com. Altogether, Priceline Group raked in $2 billion in quarterly revenue and $374 million in profits in the spring of 2016. Part of the reason for that success? Powerful acquisitions and a focused vision.
Airbnb needs Priceline’s money-making prowess, while Priceline needs Airbnb’s powerful branding. Here’s how the two rivals compare.
Though Airbnb seems like the foremost purveyor of hotel alternatives, Priceline Group actually has a few million more listings: Booking.com offers 6.6 million spaces to Airbnb’s more than 2 million. In terms of actual bookings, their numbers are a lot closer: Airbnb reports an average of 500,000 guests a night, while Booking.com’s is closer to 800,000. However, Booking.com also can provide users with real hotels, bringing its total bookable rooms up to 21 million.
Both Airbnb and Priceline realize the value in providing a complete experience for travelers. That’s why Priceline Group has those six core properties: Kayak books inexpensive flights, Priceline.com and Booking.com tackle your accommodations, RentalCars.com helps you when you land, and OpenTable lets you make restaurant reservations from your smartphone. Priceline Group is also experimenting with more AI technology, including a hookup with Amazon’s Alexa that lets users book flights via voice and a new chat tool called Booking Messages that connects users with their hosts or hotel front desks.