Platform data in residential tourism

Statbel DataLab: new statistics, methods and data sources beta version

DataLab – Platform data in residential tourism

DataLab
DataLab – Platform data in residential tourism

Over the last decade, more and more Belgians booked their holidays on the Internet. But the owners of accommodations also liked to use an online platform to offer an apartment or holiday home for rent.

Due to this increasing success, Statbel, the Belgian statistical office, decided to produce a new experimental statistic on the use of online platforms for the rental of private holiday accommodations. For this, Statbel uses the data it receives via Eurostat from four large platform companies. These four platforms, Airbnb, Booking.com, the Expedia Group and TripAdvisor, provide pseudonymised and aggregated data about all reservations and overnight stays that take place via their platforms on the Belgian territory.

This experimental statistic is limited to the accommodations that are offered by private individuals. Professional accommodation providers, like hotels, are excluded. The statistics on these professional providers are available in the official tourism statistics. More information about this experimental statistic and the data used is available in the tab ‘documents’.

In 2020, online platforms accounted for 4,467,000 overnight stays at private accommodations

The most recent figures show that the rental of accommodations offered by private individuals via a online platform is well established. In 2020, 437,000 accommodations were booked via an online platform, with travellers spending to total of 4,467,000 nights. And without the outbreak of the coronavirus and the travel restrictions in force since March 2020, the number of reservations and overnight stays would even have been significantly higher.

The number of reservations and overnight stays booked via an online platform increased systematically on an annual basis until February 2020. From March 2020 onwards, we see the impact of the coronavirus crisis, with travel abroad being discouraged. In the summer of 2020, a strong recovery took place, but the second wave in the autumn finally resulted in a strong decrease in the number of overnight stays booked. Finally, the 4,467,000 overnight stays represent a 36.1% decrease compared to 2019 and a 19.5% decrease compared to 2018.

Most overnight stays took place in the Flemish Region

The Flemish Region registers the largest number of overnight stays in accommodations offered by private individuals and booked via an online platform. In 2020, 45.4% of all overnight stays took place in the Flemish Region, 35.8% in the Walloon Region and finally 18.8% in the Brussels-Capital Region. Compared to 2019, the number of overnight stays decreased substantially in the capital (-11.4 pp), while the Walloon Region gained in popularity (+11.7 pp). A comparable trend is observed in other European countries where, due to the coronavirus crisis, the share of large cities decreased in favour of rural aeras with a lot of nature.

Brussels-Capital remains the most popular arrondissement

Despite a sharp decrease in 2020, Brussels-Capital remains the arrondissement with the largest number of overnight stays booked with a private individual via an online platform. Throughout the full calendar year, 841,000 overnight stays took place in the capital. The arrondissements Ostend (408,000 overnight stays) and Bruges (367,000 overnight stays) complete the top 3. In Wallonia, Verviers was the most popular arrondissement with 326,000 overnight stays and occupies the fourth national place.

Foreigners are the majority

In 2018 and 2019, 77% of overnight stays were booked by non-residents, so by travellers whose main residence is located abroad. Because of the travel restrictions due to the coronavirus crisis, this share dropped to 52% in 2020.

Finally, it is also possible to break down the number of overnight stays of non-residents by country of origin of the traveler. This analysis shows that in 2018 and 2019, the French were the largest group of non-residents who booked an accommodation offered by a private individual via on online platform. In 2020, the Dutch passed the French, and became with 23% of the overnight stays the main country of origin. The Germans complete the top 3, with 17% of overnight stays, followed closely by the residents in the United Kingdom and Spain.

In recent years, various apps have come into use that bring people into contact with each other to exchange goods and services. More and more consumers use an online platform to book a holiday home or have a meal delivered to their home by a bicycle courier. As a result, the economic importance of the sharing economy is growing rapidly.

That is why Statbel, the Belgian statistical office, in close cooperation with Eurostat and other national statistical institutes, is studying how the sharing economy can be integrated into public statistics. However, national statistical institutes face a considerable difficulty when analysing the platform companies. The largest platform companies are multinational players, often managing their activities in Belgium from a foreign head office. These companies are therefore rarely found in the regular business statistics or registers. In order to obtain the required data, national statistical institutes would therefore be obliged to contact all platform companies on a unilateral basis. This was a time-consuming and inefficient process for both the platform companies and the statistical institutes. Therefore, the European Commission decided to take these discussions into its own hands and request the data for all EU Member States via one agreement. These negotiations initially focused on the residential tourism sector and resulted in agreements with the platform companies Airbnb, Booking.com, TripAdvisor and Expedia . In the meantime, these companies have delivered the first data files to Eurostat. Eurostat then divides the microdata into 27 national pseudonymised and aggregated files, so that Statbel receives information on all reservations and overnight stays booked via these four online platforms on the Belgian territory.

With the agreements between the European Commission and the four platform companies, a first, important hurdle has been taken. But the methodological work is only just beginning. Based on the first files, the national statistical institutes and Eurostat still have to develop a harmonised approach to the methodological challenges. In particular, due to the lack of identification data in the microdata of the platform companies, double counting poses a considerable problem. This double counting, whereby an accommodation is contained in at least two different files, is a particular challenge for capacity determination. That is why this information is not included in the experimental statistics.

At the moment the national statistical institutes together with Eurostat are studying which techniques can best be used to solve the methodological problems. Innovative methods such as web scraping are particularly under consideration. Web scraping involves scraping relevant information from websites, which in combination with artificial intelligence is considered the best solution. Concretely, we study the following two approaches:

  • text recognition: individuals who offer the same room on several online platforms usually use the same text. By looking for key words, such as the location of the accommodation, the size of the room, available facilities, etc., identical accommodations can be found automatically;
  • Photo recognition: this technique automatically compares the photos that are placed with an advertisement in order to identify possible duplicates. However, this technique requires a large computer memory and is therefore rather kept in reserve as an alternative solution.

In time, the intention is to integrate the platform data into recurring statistics. The timing for this depends both on achieving a harmonised approach to the methodological problems and on faster data delivery by the platform companies.