By Heather Somerville
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Airbnb, the leading online marketplace for short-term lodging, on Tuesday invited some of the owners of properties listed on its service, known as hosts, to attend executive board meetings and offered them more direct contact with its chief executive, in an attempt to give the people vital to the company's success a greater say in how it is run.
Airbnb depends on the loyalty and advocacy of its hosts - people who rent out their homes and apartments through the company's website - in its battles with regulators in cities across the globe.
Unlike the guests that use Airbnb, hosts are usually voters and taxpayers in their communities, and have more sway with elected officials. Host advocacy was pivotal to the defeat of Proposition F in San Francisco, a measure on the ballot in 2015 to limit short-term rentals.
In an event at Airbnb's San Francisco headquarters on Tuesday, attended by dozens of Airbnb hosts from across the world, CEO Brian Chesky announced that he will have more direct communication with hosts through periodic emails and quarterly Facebook Live events. He added that Airbnb will create an advisory board made up of hosts, and will invite certain hosts to one board meeting a year.
Airbnb will also expand the number of what it calls 'host clubs' to 1,000 from 114 by the end of 2018, Chesky said. The hosts clubs were launched in 2015 as an effort to galvanize hosts to engage with local officials and head off regulatory crackdowns. Chesky also said he would take on the additional title of head of community.
Airbnb has faced opposition from local governments and the established hospitality industry in many places, just as ride-hailing service Uber Technologies Inc [UBER.UL] has faced opposition from local regulators and existing taxi services.
Uber has benefited from both passengers and drivers lobbying local elected officials to legalize the service, but Airbnb has the problem that guests who stay in Airbnb homes are usually from another city or country.
That means Airbnb has to rely on its hosts, who make up about 3 million of the total 150 million Airbnb users globally, to appeal to local officials for regulations friendly to Airbnb.
"Our community (of hosts) is able to be a counterweight to the historic power of the hotel industry," said Chris Lehane, Airbnb's head of global policy. "They are real people who do vote."
More than 5,700 Airbnb hosts have attended a political event and about 10,700 hosts have contacted an elected official regarding Airbnb, the company said Tuesday. Airbnb operates in about 65,000 cities across 191 countries.
(Reporting by Heather Somerville; Editing by Bill Rigby)