April 28, 2016, Updated April 25, 2016

It is said that a picture is worth a thousand words but when it comes to Airbnb bookings, it would seem, a picture is worth a consumer booking. An Israeli study looked at the effects a profile photo has on Airbnb services.

The research, recently published in the journal Tourism Management, shows that a seller’s appearance has more sway on a potential customer than reviews by previous guests.

“Unlike Facebook or LinkedIn, the person is not the ‘selling product’ here. On Airbnb the focus is on the property and its attributes, but even so — we found that the profile pictures of the hosts are critical to their business success,” said Dr. Eyal Ert from the Department of Environmental Economics and Management at the Hebrew University.

The researchers set up two complementary studies.

In the first study, researchers collected the revealed data of all Airbnb’s listings in Stockholm, including property size and location, pictures of the property, price, and customer reviews. They presented the personal photos of the Airbnb hosts to 600 research participants. They then performed hedonic price analysis – a model that estimates the extent to which each of the factors comprising the selling good affects the price – combined with ratings of the hosts’ trustworthiness and attractiveness as perceived from their personal photos.

The study found that the more trustworthy the host is perceived to be from her photo, the higher the price of the listing and the probability of its being chosen.

The research also found that online-review scores had no effect on listing price or likelihood of consumer booking.

In the second study, researchers conducted a controlled experiment, where participants were presented with a series of made-up Airbnb profiles, using photos of actors.

The study found that the level of hosts’ perceived trustworthiness, mainly as inferred from their photos, directly affects consumers’ choices.

“The results of our research imply a strong need for trust in sharing economy platforms. Different rules and consumer decision-making are at play here, and a fuller examination of these is still needed to shed light on how this economy really operates,” said Prof. Aliza Fleischer, the Yekutiel X. Federmann Chair in Hotel Management in the Department of Environmental Economics and Management at the Hebrew University.

Photo via Shutterstock

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