December 8th, 2011
01:54 PM GMT
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Paris, France (CNN) – Fancy vacationing at the five star presidential estate the Obamas used during their luxury Hawaii vacation? For $3,571 per night you too can stay there thanks to global travel site Airbnb.

Airbnb is a platform that offers a global network of accommodation offered by local people who register on the site. It effectively lets people rent out their homes as like mini-hotels.

Describing the platform as “tourism 2.0,” founder Brian Chesky explained that Airbnb is part of a new "sharing economy."

"We are in 191 countries,” he told the Le Web tech conference in Paris on Thursday, where his startup was hailed by event host Loic Le Meur as “the biggest threat to the hotel industry.”

“Our vision from the start was ‘what if you could hire a room from someone like you would an hotel room?’ We started with the couch-surfing idea, before realizing that people want their own rooms.”

Chesky says the platform, launched in 2008 has now been used for more than two million nights’ worth of accommodation. There are about 100,000 listings posted on the site.

Key to that success, he says, is the hiring of 2,000 photographers to take high-resolution pictures of people’s homes for free to attract potential customers.

Most of the photographers were also found among the users registered on Airbnb, Chesky said.

Chesky said that people earned on average $4,000 to $5,000 a year renting out their room for an average of four nights a month.

But using the service is not without its risks. Last July, one registered landlords had her property vandalized and robbed by someone letting it.

The user, identified as EJ, wrote a blog documenting how her home was ransacked.

She wrote: "They smashed a hole through a locked closet door, and found the passport, cash, credit card and grandmother’s jewelry I had hidden inside. They took my camera, my iPod, an old laptop, and my external backup drive filled with photos, journals… my entire life.

“They found my birth certificate and social security card, which I believe they photocopied -– using the printer/copier I kindly left out for my guests’ use.

“They rifled through all my drawers, wore my shoes and clothes, and left my clothing crumpled up in a pile of wet, mildewing towels on the closet floor."

However, Chesky says these security issues have now been addressed with the implementation of a 24-hour security plan and a ratings system.

“We have also offered a $50,000 guarantee against vandalism and theft. We will continue to use the community to improve the product. We try to have relationships with all host on our website. If they don't play by the rules, they're out,” he said.

Chesky also noted that while Paris is a key market for the service, its fastest growing markets are in Asia and Latin America, which now account for 70% of Airbnb’s business.

Airbnb has received $112m in funding, which Chesky says will be used to “invest in the next 10 years of growth.”

The service is currently available on iPhone and will be released on Android next month, Chesky said.

soundoff (5 Responses)
  1. saorise72

    If couch surfing has not put a dent into the hotel industry, I doubt this will. However, it does allow people to make money on houses they don't use that often, so it is a great site for people looking to weather the real estate crises.

    December 8, 2011 at 3:44 pm |
  2. Dania

    It's good to have options. Sometimes Iike staying in hotels and sometime I like to find more personal and off the beaten path places to enjoy the local scene without walking back into a hotel and feeling the pristine isolation of a hotel.

    Both have their place in the market.

    If I were renting room in my home or my entire home, I would certainly ask renters many questions and possibly even for references. It's my home, I have the right to ask. If they don't like it then they are free to find another place to rent. I'm not that greedy to take just anyone with a dollar in.

    December 9, 2011 at 2:12 am |
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