Airbnb is gearing up for what it claims will be an “unprecedented travel rebound” by introducing more than 100 innovations and updates to its platform to capture travel demand and increase its pool of and support for hosts.
Airbnb co-founder and CEO Brian Chesky says the platform refresh - which includes new search tools and a streamlined sign-up process for hosts – is its “most comprehensive update ever.”
The home-share giant says the upgrades were inspired by the “major shift” occurring in how people are traveling, which includes a desire for flexibility as many people blend work and leisure aspects of their lives.
To that end, Airbnb has introduced an “I’m Flexible” search functionality that includes three new ways to search on the platform: Flexible Dates, Flexible Matching and Flexible Destinations.
“This is powerful functionality,” says Airbnb co-fouder and chief strategy officer Nathan Blecharczyk in an interview with PhocusWire. “I don’t think any other OTA has it.”
Flexible Dates, which began rolling out in February, allows people to search by features such as weekend getaway, weeklong vacation or monthlong stay rather than by fixed dates. Since launching the tool, more than 100 million searches have used it.
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With Flexible Matching, listings just outside of a user’s search parameters can be surfaced, for example homes priced just above a particular max price per night.
Flexible Destinations is targeted toward guests who care more about the uniqueness of where they stay – say, a castle or treehouse - rather than a specific destination. Airbnb says it has more than 170,000 one-of-a-kind properties to choose from, and the number of searches for those listings has grown 94% so far in 2021 compared to the same period in 2019.
Flexible Destinations will be live June 30.
Airbnb has also added search filters that will adapt to the season or location and allow people to search for homes near points of interest or with specific attributes, such as a home with an ocean view.
Additionally, Airbnb has introduced a faster checkout process for guests and an updated reviews section, as well as dedicated arrival guides with information travelers need before their stay.
Blecharczyk says that, between the disruption from the pandemic as well as Airbnb’s efforts that went into its listing on the public markets in December 2020, the new updates are really the “byproduct of the last five months.”
Though some features were in the works pre-pandemic, Airbnb’s pivot to focus on its core Homes business meant the company “got everyone in our team rowing in one direction.”
The flexibility features not only better accommodate guests, but they also help hosts fill gaps in their calendars, Blecharczyk continues. “This is a real benefit for hosts because it will lead to higher occupancy rates. The feature is definitely anchored in what consumers want and need and benefit by, but it’s also good for Airbnb because as a platform, we are basically matching demand with supply,” he says.
“As a platform, we’re uniquely positioned to play the role of matchmaker, and if we can do that better then everybody wins. It makes Airbnb all the more powerful of a platform. If there’s something we have to be world-class at, matching is something we have to be world-class at.”
For hosts, Airbnb has simplified its onboarding process from “dozens” of steps to just 10.
As a first step, the welcome to hosting page has been redesigned to include articles and testimonials as well as an improved tool to estimate potential earnings based on nightly rates and occupancy in the listing area.
If there’s something we have to be world-class at, matching is something we have to be world-class at.
Nathan Blecharczyk - Airbnb
Elsewhere, technology including computer vision deep-learning models has been introduced to help hosts arrange photos by guest appeal and craft effective titles and descriptions for their listings.
In the United States, details such as number of bedrooms and bathrooms will automatically populate based on publicly available real estate data.
In a keynote presentation outlining the new process, Chesky says that for new hosts, “once you list it’s very likely you’ll get bookings.”
The company says that for new listings activated and booked in Q1 2021, 50% received a reservation request within four days of activation.
Airbnb has also made improvements to hosts’ inboxes, with messages now loading up to 10 times faster, and has introduced a new “Today” tab where hosts can manage bookings and daily tasks.
Also for hosts, Airbnb is doubling its number of support agents and expanding its support coverage from 11 to 42 languages. It has also added a dedicated support team for Superhosts and Host Community Leaders which will provide priority service from its most experienced support agents.
“Last year, our community support wasn’t where it should be,” Chesky says about how Airbnb handled cancellations amid the pandemic.
The introduction of new features comes as competition ramps up in the vacation rental space: According to AirDNA, the U.S. short-term rental market has officially recovered demand above 2019 levels.
As such, alternative accommodations platforms are vying for that business. In April, Airbnb competitor Vrbo introduced its “Fast Start” program directly targeting Airbnb Superhosts.
With the summer season kicking off, a major challenge facing short-term rental players is how to grow their supply to meet the increasing demand.
"Supply takes time. It’s not an intuitive time for hosts to join … [but] as travel rebounds it’s going to become more intuitive to people,” Blecharczyk says. “We’ll continue to innovate and make sure they feel comfortable hosting.”
As for Vrbo's attempts to poach Airbnb Superhosts, Blecharczyk says he has not seen any data to support that Superhosts have migrated since the launch of Vrbo’s campaign. “Vrbo’s been around a long time and Airbnb’s been around a long time. Competition is nothing new,” he says.
Superhosts, he continues, are among Airbnb’s best. “They do the most business on Airbnb. They’re the ones most satisfied with Airbnb.”
While the more than 100 new updates are primarily focused on accommodations, Blecharczyk says there is “a lot of growth potential” in the business units that were paused amid the pandemic, such as transportation and hotels.
“There’s an opportunity to lean into these changing trends that we’re seeing, and frankly to gain market share and be even more mainstream. And it makes a lot of business sense,” he says.
“That won’t change in the near-term, but long-term there’s lots of opportunity.”