Skift Take

With these new features, it's clear Airbnb wants to reduce discrimination on its platform, sign on more vacation rental managers, and generate more bookings. But is this enough to keep hosts happy?

Airbnb wants to incentivize more of its hosts to make their listings instantly bookable.

The alternative accommodations platform is introducing a suite of new tools for hosts who opt into the feature, making it easier for them to manage their listings.

Currently, 1.7 million out of Airbnb’s more than 3 million listings are instantly bookable, and the company says more than 70 percent of new listings on the site are from hosts who enabled Instant Book as soon as it became available. Airbnb also said that 60 percent of its bookings from guests are now being handled via Instant Book.

The new tools include the following features for hosts who sign up for Instant Book:

  • Hosts with multiple listings have access to an improved calendar tool designed to prevent double bookings and set minimum night stays for specific dates.
  • Hosts can hold certain days from being instantly bookable by other guests if they’re already in conversations with guests who are inquiring about those dates.
  • First-time Airbnb guests will receive information explaining the difference between an Airbnb versus a hotel stay, for example. Currently, all Airbnb guests must read and agree to an individual hosts’ house rules and expectations prior to booking.
  • Hosts can allow check-ins and check-outs on specific days of the week and at certain times.
  • If a guest rates a host with three stars or lower, that guest cannot instantly book with that host again.

What Airbnb Hosts Think of the New Tools

It’s clear that Airbnb’s new suite of tools is designed to make things easier for hosts, and to give them control over when and how their guests place a booking on the platform.

Prior to the introduction of these new features, the primary incentive for hosts who chose to opt into Instant Book was better visibility on the platform and a higher chance of getting more bookings, said San Francisco-based Airbnb hosts David Jacoby and Peter Kwan.

“For starters, it’s one of the three main items that is featured for guests to filter by. So, if you want to appear in more searches, this is the way to go,” Jacoby, president and co-founder of Hostfully, said.

He also said that Airbnb has already put into place measures that give hosts more control. “Second, I very rarely actually say ‘no’ to a guest, so this saves the back-and-forth hassle of them requesting if they can stay with me, and then me approving them,” Jacoby said.

“As a host, I actually like the ease of getting the reservation immediately, while also knowing that Airbnb will indeed let you cancel an Instant Book reservation, penalty-free, if you feel uncomfortable with the guest. So, you still do have an ‘out’ if you need it. They also give you flexibility of the ‘guest requirements,’ which controls the level of screening for guests who can book with you. For example, have they already used Airbnb and have positive reviews?,” Jacoby said.

Airbnb hosts who use Instant Book can cancel up to three reservations per year, and Airbnb has previously told Skift that hosts who cancel Instant Bookings must give the company a specific reason for their cancellations.

“Finally, I’ve heard, but I’m not 100-percent sure, that their algorithms promote instant bookings more in searches in general because there is a higher chance that a booking will actually be made,” Jacoby added. “I don’t know the exact details of that, as they keep their listing order and search algorithms close to their chest, but many people believe that.”

Kwan, who’s also the co-chair of the Home Sharers Democratic Club of San Francisco, said, “Airbnb has been keen to persuade hosts to migrate to Instant Book for awhile now. I can’t confirm whether Instant Book hosts get preference under guest search results, but as David [Jacoby] pointed out, there is a tab that allows guests to automatically filter Instant Book results. I switched awhile ago and have not noticed a negative effect from switching to Instant Book.”

Kwan said the improved calendar settings and education for first-time Airbnb guests are welcome additions, but he hopes Instant Book guests will still be required to agree to house rules during the actual booking process, too. [Language describing the new feature is somewhat unclear.]

“My understanding is that no guests currently can book without first agreeing to house rules (by checking a box) during the booking process,” Kwan said. “If I’m wrong, I’m glad Airbnb is fixing this deficiency — all guests, whether Instant Book ones or not, should not be able to finalize the booking without first agreeing to house rules.”

Combatting Bias

Melanie Meharchand, an Airbnb host based in Monterey, California, agreed with Jacoby and Kwan, saying, “The biggest incentive for Instant Book, as a host, is preferential search ranking. That’s the holy grail for hosts who want to fill their calendar — appearing higher in search results, with the goal of showing up on the first page.

“There are many factors that go into search ranking including price, reviews, photography, calendar updates and so forth. It’s a bit of a guessing game on how to get ideal positioning, but when you do, it means you’ll get booked more often.”

She also pointed out that aside from getting more bookings, promoting more Instant Book listings helps Airbnb decrease the likelihood of discrimination or bias taking place on their platform.

“From Airbnb’s standpoint, Instant Book means they can avoid some of the subjective pitfalls that have come up, like hosts declining guests of certain ethnicities, religions or sexual orientations,” Meharchand said.

Airbnb recently settled a race discrimination complaint in California by agreeing to work directly with government regulators to police and improve upon its non-discrimination policy, which was announced in September 2016 following intense media coverage and scrutiny of incidents where Airbnb guests were discriminated against by hosts because of their race.

Growing Its Share of the Vacation Rental Market

Another reason why Airbnb wants more Instant Book listings on its platform relates to its desire to grow its share of the traditional vacation rental market. Vacation rentals generally  face less regulatory scrutiny than Airbnb’s listings in urban centers such as New York City or Paris, for example.

Earlier this year, the company purchased Luxury Retreats, a specialist in high-end vacation rentals. By making it easier for property managers to use Airbnb, and get more bookings through it, Airbnb hopes to increase its number of listings for these specific types of homes.

Last fall, an Airbnb executive told Skift Airbnb is making it a priority to increase its current roster of 500,000 vacation rental listings out of the 2 million listings overall that it had at that time.

According to more recent Airbnb data given to STR, some 1 million, or a third of its total 3 million listings, comprise professionally managed rentals. By comparison, however, Expedia’s HomeAway family of short-term rental and vacation rental sites has an estimated 1.2 million listings for professionally managed vacation rentals.

Airbnb has been adding a variety of features making it easier for professional vacation rental management companies to get bookings through its platform. More than a year ago, for example, Airbnb added a new feature that makes it easier for multiple hosts to manage listings.

Taking Hosts’ Needs Into Consideration

“Overall, as I said, this package of changes is positive,” Kwan said. “Whether it will persuade a significant number of hosts to migrate to Instant Book is unclear to me. It will definitely remove some of the barriers, but I also know a good number of hosts who hold strongly to their refusal to adopt Instant Book on the basis that they highly value the pre-booking exchange with guests as a comforting vetting process.

“Many of those hosts have also expressed to me their preference not to adopt Instant Book on the basis that it distinguishes them from hotels in that these hosts value very much the personal service and hospitality they provide in opening up their homes to travelers. So, they shy away from doing anything that makes them look more like hotels.”

While Meharchand thinks adding features like this for hosts who choose to allow Instant Book is a step in the right direction, she said she wished the company would also consider revising some of its policies regarding cancellations.

“As a host, I’d love to see more ways to identify or channel high-risk groups, like party groups, to properties that are better-suited to them than a family neighborhood,” she said. “Hosts who cancel reservations face penalties in how they are ranked in future searches. If there’s damage, the onus is on hosts to go after guests through the self-service Resolution Center.

“If guests create a disturbance, the system doesn’t offer much help in dealing with angry neighbors or penalties from cities, which are typically directed at hosts, not guests or Airbnb. I’d love to see more fine-tuned pre-stay and post-stay options to help hosts ensure the right situation for guests and hosts.”

Kwan added, “These hosts are valuable to sites like Airbnb because what they do represents the core of Airbnb’s values of hospitality, to ‘Belong Anywhere. On the other hand, I can understand why, commercially, Airbnb wants more hosts to adopt Instant Book — it increases booking rates and, therefore, profits. I hope Airbnb continues to tread carefully in negotiating this tension between preserving the brand and increasing profits.”

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Tags: airbnb, hosts, instant booking

Photo credit: A new set of tools is now available for Airbnb hosts who choose to make their listings instantly bookable on the homesharing platform. Airbnb / Airbnb

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