Airbnb is one of the most successful examples of sharing economy marketplaces. With rapid and global market penetration, understanding its attractiveness is key to business decision making. Key to the approach is a method that combines thematic analysis and machine learning to develop a custom dictionary.
Airbnb is one of the most successful examples of sharing economy marketplaces. With rapid and global market penetration, understanding its attractiveness and evolving growth opportunities is key to plan business decision making. There is an ongoing debate, for example, about whether Airbnb is a hospitality service that fosters social exchanges between hosts and guests, as the sharing economy manifesto originally stated, or whether it is (or is evolving into being) a purely business transaction platform, the way hotels have traditionally operated. To answer these questions, we propose a novel market analysis approach that exploits customers' reviews. Key to the approach is a method that combines thematic analysis and machine learning to inductively develop a custom dictionary for guests' reviews. Based on this dictionary, we then use quantitative linguistic analysis on a corpus of 3.2 million reviews collected in 6 different cities, and illustrate how to answer a variety of market research questions, at fine levels of temporal, thematic, user and spatial granularity, such as (i) how the business vs social dichotomy is evolving over the years, (ii) what exact words within such top-level categories are evolving, (iii) whether such trends vary across different user segments and (iv) in different neighbourhoods.