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If you’re like me and began searching for housing in Austin, Texas, for this year’s SXSW Interactive conference over the last few days or weeks, the first place you looked was probably Airbnb. With hotel lodging more or less booked solid for months, Airbnb has served as a yearly refuge for tens of thousands of visitors from the tech, music and film industry that converge on the city for a week of networking and partying.
Austin at SXSW is a prime example of the kind of flexibility that Airbnb can provide to both residents and visitors during a major event, a benefit that has become necessary during SXSW. Austin’s official hospitality industry saw direct bookings of more than 10,500 individual reservations last year. But with the number of official registrants up more than 40 percent over its previous record, the city was ill-equipped to deal with the influx of people on its own.
As a result, Airbnb saw 3,000 bookings during the 2011 conference, with more than 1,500 guests occupying 1,000 rooms. This year, the startup surpassed those numbers about a month before SXSW kicks off, with more bookings happening every day.
Thankfully for those who registered late for SXSW 2012, Airbnb has seen even more hosts sign up this year. New hosts are appearing every day, and the number of property listings continues to creep up. Since January, Airbnb has seen a 44 percent increase in host signups in Austin. That compares with a 230 percent increase in the same period a year before, but from a much smaller base of hosts before SXSW 2011.
Even so, the demand seemingly continues to outpace supply, and hosts are reacting by drastically increasing the prices they ask for lodging during the festival. It’s not unusual to see listing prices doubled for the week of SXSW — and that’s not just for properties in the center of the action. Some listings as far as three or four miles away from downtown are looking to cash in on the influx of visitors.
That can be good news for Austin residents, who can earn a little extra cash during the week. The question is whether Airbnb can retain those listings even after visitors from around the country leave. Last year, I stayed in an Airbnb location the week after SXSW was over. But it was the listing of a host who had made his home available for months prior to SXSW and had multiple reviews. (Disclosure: I am an avid Airbnb user even when there aren’t any hotel rooms left.) Looking over the landscape of available properties on the site today, few still available were originally listed more than a month ago. How many will remain in the weeks or months following?