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Airbnb's popularity grows in rural communities

A woman browses the site of US home sharing giant Airbnb on a tablet.
John MacDougall | AFP | Getty Images
A woman browses the site of US home sharing giant Airbnb on a tablet.

Airbnb, which facilitates short-term home rentals, says it is seeing a spike in the number of reservations in rural areas.

In a new report released today, the home-sharing website says that 3.3 million guest arrivals occurred at rural listings in the USA over the last year. That's a year-over-year increase of 138%.

In every U.S. state, the earnings of Airbnb hosts in rural areas represented a large percentage of household income, ranging from 5% to 20%. In Hawaii, it made up 20.3% of household income. In California, it was 20.1%.

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According to Airbnb's research, there are more Airbnb hosts than corporate hotel chains in many rural communities in the USA.

In West Virginia, 75% of active Airbnb listings are located in rural areas, compared with 32.7% of hotels rooms that are. In New Hampshire, 71.9% of active Airbnb listings are located in rural areas, while 33.1% of hotel rooms are. In Montana, the Airbnb to hotel room percentages in rural areas are 64.1% vs. 28.1% . In Wyoming, there are 65.9% rural Airbnb listings compared with 31.5% hotel rooms.

Chris Lehane, head of global policy for Airbnb, says many of the most popular rural destinations are near national and state parks or places that play host to youth sports tournaments.

"The Airbnb platform is a platform that is supporting the middle class," Lehane says. "It democratizes tourism, brings tourism to places that haven't benefited from it."

Rural Airbnb's are particularly popular among families and young travelers in their 20s and early 30s — known as Millennials — who are searching for more authentic local experiences, Lehane says.

The rural Airbnb's are among the company's fastest growing segments, he says. It has also helped female Airbnb hosts. The majority of Airbnb rural hosts in almost every country studied for the report are women.

"I'm not saying we're the solution for all the challenges rural communities are facing but I think we are a part of a broader formula to create economic opportunities," Lehane says.

The report also shows the general growth of Airbnb across the USA. Many cities have moved to try to stem Airbnb's growth at the behest of the hotel industry. Still, 46 of the 50 U.S. states have seen at least 100% year-over-year growth.

The states seeing the fastest year-over-year growth are in the Midwest and South, including Oklahoma, Illinois, Arkansas, Missouri and Alabama.