Strategic Messaging Mistakes by Airbnb

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Airbnb plummeted more than 10 percent today.

Every entrepreneur knows when you lose a whale, you must find a replacement quickly or revenue will fall. In the case with Airbnb, it lost its whale in January when New York City banned short-term rentals, and there is no replacement in sight.

I’ll go on a limb now and predict the company will continue to slide for the rest of the year and beyond based on their strategic messaging mistakes. These are mistakes entrepreneurs, CEOs, business owners and marketers can all learn from.

Strategic Mistakes Airbnb Made with Messaging

When New York City tried to pass a short-term rental law, council members tried to portray hosts as criminals. They vilified short term rentals as contributing to the housing crisis, and alleged these rentals were dangerous to stay in.

The hotel industry won that PR and public policy debate. And as the owner of a PR agency, I can tell you, Airbnb and VRBO not only lost the PR battle, but they lost the PR war. They were never in the headlines, telling their side of the story on how short-term rentals actually help the community.

I spoke at a NYC Council hearing earlier this year as lawmakers discussed the short term rental law. I explained how tourists brought new revenue to our community. Restaurants, bars and museums in my neighborhood would have fewer customers under this law. 

I also shared why this would hurt tourism since a family of 5 from France or Texas can’t always afford 2 or 3 hotel rooms in Manhattan. Unfortunately, the voice from one person can’t change policy, and this is where I blame the PR teams for Airbnb and VRBO.

Public Policy is Shaped by PR

The Airbnb and VRBO PR teams should have been pushing and explaining the narrative of how this new law would hurt families and local businesses. That narrative never made headlines.

Airbnb now says it’s pivoting back to their original model of renting individual rooms, which are mostly legal under short-term rental laws. But that’s like focusing on the goldfish in the pond. Airbnb’s real income comes from hosts who rent out their entire apartments, and revenue from individual rooms will never over-compensate for revenue lost from entire home rentals.

I still have hope that Airbnb and VRBO will come together and find a way to share positive stories from the community. But based on what I’ve seen over the last few years, I don’t see it happening unless their PR team and lobbyists get together and learn to tell better stories.

I’m here if you need help with that. And if you’d like to hear more about the strategic messaging mistakes, I went more in-depth on a Linkedin post that you can read here.


Our founder – Mark Macias – is a former Executive Producer with NBC and Senior Producer with CBS in New York. City & State Magazine named him a PR Power Player in New York, while marketing peers named MACIAS PR the 2017-2020 Strategic PR Firm of the Year. In 2015, 2016 and 2017, Finance Monthly named MACIAS PR the Financial PR Firm of the Year.