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Like Expedia and TripAdvisor, Airbnb increasingly wants to be viewed as a destination resource as a supplement to its booking site. The company is testing the waters as it serves as a marketing platform for Sweden.
The move pushes Airbnb deeper into the destination marketing ecosystem while advancing its interests in fast-growing markets.
Visit Sweden, the country’s national tourism board, recently approached Airbnb about working together to tout the country’s natural wonders in a joint campaign that’s aimed at increasing interest from the U.S. market.
Travelers deciding to camp out in the woods or on a beach won’t be booking any of these natural places promoted through the partnership — because they don’t belong to anyone, said Jenny Kaiser, president of Visit Sweden’s U.S. office.
Kaiser said this is a branding campaign, not a booking campaign. Visit Sweden is more interested in getting travelers to perceive the country as a place of rich, natural landscapes than increasing the number of Airbnb bookings in the country.
The tourism board is invoking Sweden’s freedom to roam principle, part of the Swedish constitution, that gives all people the right to explore Swedish nature. Private gardens and lands under cultivation are the only exceptions to the principle.
“Airbnb is the context where we can reach our target group and this is something that’s really connected with what Airbnb is doing,” she said. “Our joint initiative is really about spreading our message about Sweden. Visit Sweden has very high demands on delivering growth and we need to find new and effective ways to be able to reach our target groups,” she said.
Sweden is a small destination, said Kaiser, who argues that its natural appeal is an advantage. “We don’t have the big budgets like other destinations but we have the progressive nature of Sweden as a brand and that enables us to be sharp and forces us to find these ideas that will really hit the hearts of the target groups,” said Kaiser.
Airbnb said Sweden’s progressive values made it an attractive partner and that resonates with the company’s “Belong Anywhere” branding. “We see Visit Sweden as our long-term partner and are happy to join forces in promoting Sweden as a destination,” said James McClure, general manager of Northern Europe at Airbnb, in a statement.
Sweden’s international tourist arrivals grew three percent in 2016. Arrivals from the U.S. grew by 40 percent year-over-year during the first quarter of 2017.
“The interest in Scandinavia is growing from the U.S., they’re becoming more experienced in international destinations and are seeking totally different experiences,” said Kaiser.
Spending time in nature is important for Swedes, said Kaiser, but Visit Sweden isn’t sure how its campaign might increase interest in camping, for example.
The country already has about 13,000 Airbnb listings and its new partnership doesn’t increase that number, said Kaiser. When travelers search for Sweden on Airbnb, for example, they’ll still see the traditional apartment or home listings rather than outdoor places that the freedom to roam campaign is promoting.
Airbnb will promote the campaign and its Sweden on Airbnb microsite [watch a video of the campaign below] across its social media channels during the next month. Both Airbnb and Visit Sweden will also work together on earned media, said Kaiser.
“When it comes to positioning Sweden, this is just the starting point,” she said. “We’ll do another initiative on another platform but the Airbnb partnership will continue. Our future partnerships will depend on which is the best fit for our key markets like the UK, Germany or China.”
This isn’t Airbnb’s first time working with a tourism board as it recently signed partners such as the Anguilla Tourist Board and the city of Guangzhou, China. Those partnerships aren’t marketing campaigns but revolve around mainly educating both destinations about the sharing economy and studying Airbnb’s impact.
Some destinations, such as London & Partners, also list Airbnb as an official accommodation partner.
As quasi-government bodies, most tourism boards don’t have policy-making authority and it’s difficult for them to embrace sharing economy companies such as Airbnb, said April Rinne, a sharing economy advisor and consultant who’s worked with tourism boards in places such as Aruba, Denmark, Sri Lanka and Singapore to help them understand and approach sharing economy models.
But tourism boards are increasingly interested in learning about their role in the sharing economy, said Rinne. More tourism boards also want to educate their local populations on the value of tourism and how sharing economy models can work for residents and local economies.
“Every conversation I’ve had with tourism boards has been focused on what’s the role of community-focused tourism going forward?” she said. “Many tourism boards see the sharing economy as one component of a community-led tourism approach.”
Sweden, for instance, isn’t openly endorsing Airbnb’s model as much as it’s using its reach and resources to attract open-minded travelers who want a different European travel experience.
But given Sweden’s past marketing campaigns such as turning locals into telephone tourism ambassadors, the country has shown it understands the potential for how locals can become embedded in the tourism industry and view tourism as a positive impact.
Sweden isn’t one of Airbnb’s top markets but Sweden is located in one of the fastest-growing regions for European tourism. Airbnb likely wants a piece of that growth but it will also focus on larger potential in other markets such as China.