What makes an Airbnb host a superhost? Empirical evidence from San Francisco and the Bay Area

Using data on Airbnb listings from San Francisco and the Bay Area, a recent study by Ulrich Gunter of the Department of Tourism and Service Management investigates the relative importance of the four criteria that need to be fulfilled to obtain the Airbnb superhost status. According to Airbnb's website, superhosts are “[e]xperienced hosts who are passionate about making your trip memorable”. In addition to an Airbnb account in good standing, they require:

(1) at least ten completed trips in the previous twelve months,

(2) a five-star rating (out of five stars) from at least 80% of their guests in the previous twelve months,

(3) a response rate of at least 90% to booking inquiries in the previous twelve months while responding quickly, as well as

(4) a low cancellation rate on the part of the host to confirmed bookings in the previous twelve months.

The superhost status, which has existed since Fall 2014 and which Airbnb claims to award ‘automatically’ for one quarter of a year, confers a number of benefits on the host, such as access to exclusive Airbnb events and previews of future releases, priority support from Airbnb, a travel coupon worth 100 US dollars, as well as a superhost profile badge clearly visible to potential guests. This superhost profile badge, in turn, may be perceived by potential guests as a signal of quality of the accommodation and commitment of the host, resulting in an increased number of bookings and increased revenue for the host.

The results of this study show that in San Francisco and the Bay Area obtaining and maintaining excellent ratings is, by far, the most important criterion, followed by reliable cancellation behavior of the host, host responsiveness, and sufficient Airbnb demand. According to the present findings, Airbnb hosts who want to increase the probability of obtaining or maintaining the superhost status are therefore advised to put relatively more energy in getting and keeping excellent ratings while, of course, avoiding falling below the minimum requirements for the remaining three superhost criteria.

“Another interesting finding of this study was that commercial Airbnb providers are more likely to obtain the superhost status,’’ says Dr. Gunter. ‘’Contrary to what Airbnb claims, there may thus not even be any superhost ‘automatism’, but awarding the superhost status could be a partially steered process, especially regarding the apparent impact of being a commercial Airbnb provider on obtaining or maintaining the superhost status.”

Read more in the journal Tourism Management, 2018, Vol. 66, pp. 26 – 37 

Picture: Column chart of published nightly rate (in US dollars) in San Francisco (geographical distribution of Airbnb listings). Source: AirDNA (https://www.airdna.co/) and own visualization with Microsoft Power Map for Excel 2013. Notes: The higher a single column is, the higher is the published nightly rate (in US dollars). The different shades (i.e. colors) denote different zip code areas.