In the long term, it's clear that Airbnb will revisit recalibrating its focus beyond stays and experiences, and will dabble in flights, hotels, and smart-home technology. It would be silly not to.
Nearly a year-and-a half since Airbnb had to shut down its plans to debut flights because of the Covid crisis, chief financial officer Dave Stephensen said the company sees revenue opportunities beyond booking stays in potential smart home partnerships with Google, Amazon, and Apple.
Speaking at a Nasdaq investor conference Thursday, Stephensen said he welcomes competition from the smart home trio, and sees an opportunity to work with them on automating home technology. He said Airbnb has lagged in this arena, and is “under-penetrated.”
“I’m actually very bullish in the long-term,” he said — without specifics — on how Airbnb might work with hosts and these would-be partners on smart home technology.
From Nest to Alexa, Google, Amazon, and Apple have a variety of smart home solutions.
He said smart home technology, as well as keyless entry, could be revenue drivers long-term for Airbnb.
Curiously, while talking about smart homes, Stephenson also brought up opportunities for Airbnb to facilitate keyless entry to homes without elaboration. That statement came one day after Bloomberg broke the news that Airbnb paid $7 million to basically silence an Australian woman guest who was raped in a Manhattan Airbnb in 2015.
The rapist, who was not a fellow guest, had a set of keys for that Airbnb. The host regularly left keys to the popular Airbnb at a local bodega, and guests could obtain them there with no identification required.
Airbnb doesn’t have much of a policy on how hosts and guests need to exchange keys, and the process varies wildly. It is debatable whether keyless entry, the practicality and legality of which varies widely around the world, would enhance guest and host security.
Of course, during the Nasdaq conference, the interviewer from Jeffries did not bring up the Bloomberg story — even though the incident and Airbnb’s way of dealing with these brand and guest calamities is highly relevant to Airbnb’s operations.
Stephensen addressed the possibility of Airbnb eventually returning to launching flights, an initiative that was close to debuting before Covid forced it into hiberation.
He said Airbnb is focusing on recruiting individual hosts, and would not be launching flights in the immediate future. However, if Airbnb eventually indeed decides to launch flights, then Airbnb would do so in a unique way specific to the company, and would not offer flights in a “generic” way that one could typically find elsewhere.
Not a Typical Online Travel Agency
While Booking Holdings and Expedia Group, as well as Marriott and Hilton, have multiple brands, Stephensen Airbnb sees it as more efficient to operate one brand globally.
He said Airbnb doesn’t have to waste money marketing sub-brands. “We have one brand to feed — Airbnb,” Stephensen said.
He added that long-term stays also differentiate Airbnb from competitors. He claimed Airbnb average around 4.5 nights per booking — and that would be longer than a typical online travel age icy booking, he said.
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Photo Credit: An Amazon Alexa in a home as seen in March 2018. Airbnb would consider a partnership with Amazon, Google or Apple to foster smart-home tech. Roberta Couse-Baker / Flickr