THERE IS A travel story that Glenn Fogel, CEO of Booking Holdings, formerly called Priceline, likes to tell. While planning a recent family trip to Iceland, his wife wanted to check out "another site," which Fogel carefully avoids naming, but is clearly Airbnb. The home rental she found there looked good, so she tried to book it. "Back and forth, back and forth, back and forth with the emails, like bah-bah-bah, bah-bah-bah," Fogel says, describing the booking process with his typical high-energy intensity. "Like a week and a half later, the person says, 'OK, I can't rent it to you,'" he says. "What a waste of energy and effort."
Fogel likes that story because it shows off one advantage Booking.com has against its startup competitor. Every one of Booking's home listings—5.4 million, he reminds me on a recent morning in New York, more than Airbnb's nearly 5 million—is instantly bookable. "The friction is so much less," he says. (Three million of Airbnb's listings are instantly bookable, up from 1 million 18 months ago.)