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Critics thought Airbnb would hurt the tourism industry, but one company found that in San Francisco, Airbnb is helping tourism more than ever.

We highlighted the travel site Airbnb in a case study two months ago, and since then the company has been popping up all over the industry news sites. Most recently, the real estate and economic development consulting firm HR&A Advisors released the data it had been collecting from June 2011 to May 2012 about Airbnb’s effect on San Francisco tourism.

Some have claimed that Airbnb is bad for the tourism industry, because guests to cities are spread out, and might not be staying in places near tourist attractions. For example, if you want to be near a lot the tourist attractions in New York City, you stay in a hotel that has strategically placed itself near Times Square. By offering potential tourists a cheap place to say far away from Times Square, tourism boards were nervous that cities would lose money because of Airbnb.

HR&A Advisors found that, at least in San Francisco, Airbnb is contributing more to tourism in the Californian city. In particular, neighborhoods that usually don’t see any kind of tourism revenue are getting revenue from Airbnb guests (presumably because the guests are staying off the beaten tourist path). According to the research, Airbnb guests contributed $56 million USD in economic activity to San Francisco between June 2011 and May 2012. Only $12.7 million USD of that went to accommodations, the rest was spent on tourist activities.

By HR&A’s estimation, Airbnb guests spent more money in the city, compared to guests who stayed at hotels. We could assume that’s because they’re saving money on their lodgings and spending more seeing the city. One interesting point in the research was that because Airbnb guests save money on where they stay at night, they actually spend longer in the city.

The funny part overall is that Airbnb guests overwhelmingly cited the reason for using Airbnb was to save money while traveling. But in the end, because of the average 2 days longer they stay in San Francisco, because they saved money by not staying in a hotel, Airbnb users spend on average about $300 USD more on their vacation than those travelers who stay in hotels.

So all of the worried hotel owners that thought Airbnb was going to run them out of town can rest assured – they might still run you out of town, but not at the expense of the city’s tourism industry. Phew, right!? And to reiterate, this data was for San Francisco alone. Airbnb may or may not have a different effect on other cities around the world.

To read more about websites disrupting the status quo, check out our blog post about Firefox and the web browser’s recent eighth birthday.