Skift Take

Airbnb is right to focus on unique experiences. Most younger travelers prefer one-of-a-kind experiences — not cookie-cutter ones.

Airbnb Experiences has seen massive growth in its user base since it started three years ago, but is it profitable on its own?

Perhaps not, if Joseph Zadeh’s answer to a question Tuesday at the Skift Forum Europe in London is an indication. In response to a pointed audience query about profitability, Zadeh, Airbnb’s vice president for experiences, said the company seeks scale above all.

“We think this is a long play and long game,” he said. “We are going big on growth.”

On that front, Airbnb is winning, according to statistics it shared earlier Tuesday. The company said it sold nearly seven times as many experiences in 2018 as it did in the previous year. The number of experiences listed on Airbnb increased 295 percent, year-over-year, from early 2018 to early 2019.

But despite the growth strategy, Zadeh said not all activities make the cut — at least not at first. He said Airbnb is looking for unique experiences and will reject ideas that may be too mundane. It’s also looking for experiences that play into traveler passions, such as food, animals, or wellness.

“We do vet a lot of experiences, and most experiences that come to the platform don’t make it live the first time,” Zadeh said. “We have to give them feedback on how to improve it. We want to focus on something really special that you can’t do anywhere else.”

Zadeh said he and his colleagues at headquarters have a special internal messaging channel they use to discuss the best experiences pitches Airbnb receives.

In one they liked, a host wanted to teach people how to be a mermaid for a day. In another, the host promised to help people learn how to eat fire. A third would let people fly in a World War II-era airplane.

“We are trying to understand what makes something really memorable,” Zadeh said.

For now, it’s mostly trial and error, with users leaving feedback about what works. But in the future, Zadeh said, Airbnb wants to use science to predict winners.

“We have a vetting process, but behind the scenes we are developing a science around quality,” he said.

This article has been updated to reflect that the number of experiences listed on Airbnb increased 295 percent, year-over-year, from early 2018 to early 2019. An earlier version of this story misrepresented this statistic.

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Tags: airbnb, sfe2019, sgf

Photo credit: Airbnb Vice President of Experiences Joseph Zadeh and Senior Hospitality Editor Deanna Ting at Skift Forum Europe in London on April 30, 2019. Russell Harper / Skift

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