In just 11 years, it has grown from nothing to a $30bn firm. But critics say Airbnbs rise has come at a huge cost to urban life and cities across the planet are trying to find ways to rein it in.
Rowan Hughes stayed in Airbnb accommodation on holidays for several years before she decided to make some extra cash from her own home in south-east London. When refurbishing the property, she created a room with an en-suite bathroom and its own front door, listing it on the accommodation-sharing platform at the start of this year.
Hughes, 37, considered getting a lodger, but using Airbnb offered the flexibility to reclaim the room when her own friends and family came to stay. So far, she has mainly attracted business travellers, who prefer her homely atmosphere and 50-a-night charge to nearby chain hotels where soulless rooms cost significantly more.
I make it clear on the listing that its a family home, so guests know what to expect, she said. Its still early days but it has been great. It brings in some extra cash for holidays or things for the children, and its a competitive price for my visitors. It works for everyone, and I dont want to be greedy.
Hughes is exactly the kind of host the founders of Airbnb had in mind when they launched the business in 2008. Joe Gebbia and Brian Chesky dreamed up the idea of a website that would allow people to rent out a spare room for the odd night or two after they charged three guests $80 each to sleep on airbeds in their San Francisco apartment when every hotel room in the city was taken.
Eleven years on, Airbnbs site lists more than six million rooms, flats and houses in more than 81,000 cities across the globe. On average, two million people rest their heads in an Airbnb property each night half a billion since 2008.
London, Paris and New York have the biggest number of listings, but Airbnb accommodation is available in Mandalay, Ulaanbaatar and Brazzaville.
Last year, Forbes estimated the business to be worth $31bn (23bn). In the coming months, Airbnb is expected to become a listed company, with an initial public offering netting enormous wealth for Gebbia, Chesky and co-founder Nathan Blecharczyk.
But Airbnbs extraordinary success has not been welcomed unreservedly. Some residents in areas with a big Airbnb presence claim the business is hollowing out communities by forcing up rents and limiting availability for people seeking long-term lets, and importing large numbers of tourists who display scant interest in courtesy to their temporary neighbours.
Social media and websites such as airbnbhell.com abound with stories from hosts, guests and neighbours of excessive noise, trashed homes, wild parties, last-minute cancellations and scams. But they are matched by positive experiences from satisfied travellers who have found affordable alternatives to hotel rooms.
Many local authorities are implementing or exploring regulation to mitigate the negative impact of short-term rentals.
In London where more than 77,000 homes are listed on Airbnb, a fourfold increase since 2015 mayor Sadiq Khan last month called for a registration scheme for people renting properties on a short-term basis. Since 2015, a legal cap of 90 nights a year for short-term rentals in London has been in place, but it has proved almost impossible to enforce.