Skift Take

Airbnb is really good at hyping up its incremental product changes, this better be as game-changing as it's billed to be. Either way, better search, better for the user in a world of overwhelm.

Airbnb announced a big earnings quarter on Tuesday and as part of that, also hinted at a big change coming in its product next week: a complete redesign of how people search on its service.

From its shareholder letter/release it posted along with the earnings, it also included an invitation for a launch event on May 11 where co-founder and CEO Brian Chesky will unveil a slate of product updates and changes — like it now does regularly on twice-a-year basis — in a live webcast.

From the letter:

“Searching for travel online has worked the same way for the past 25 years: you enter a location and dates into a search box. But the world has changed. Millions of people are more flexible about where and when they can travel. With homes in over 100,000 towns and cities, Airbnb opens up a world of possibilities.

To help guests discover these possibilities, we’re introducing the biggest change to Airbnb in a decade. With a completely new way to search, guests will be able to discover millions of unique homes they never thought to search for. And when they book, guests will have the confidence of knowing that Airbnb has their back each step of the way. To learn more, join us at airbnb.com/2022-summer on May 11, 9 a.m. EDT.”

I wrote about the “tyranny of the search box” back in 2015, when we published “Skift’s Manifesto On The Future of Travel in 2020“, where I wrote this rather optimistically: “Messaging apps are a place for connection. The one-size-fits-all booking search box is not a place for connection. Messaging is how you break out of the tyranny of the online travel search box, in use since 1995.”

That its unlikely to happen with this Airbnb news, that merging of messaging and search, BUT some less-esoteric possibilities on the new redesign of Airbnb search: it is likely to manifest as a major redesign of its homepage on site and its mobile app, with more editorial or algorithmically curated listings, possibly more destination related editorial, more flexibility and possibly more freeform. Since Airbnb has been talking up the merged world of Iive, work and travel over the last two years, it is possible that this will be an evolution of their thinking as part of this new design launch.

That part above about “Airbnb has their back each step of the way” is a curious way to put it, maybe a new fintech product along the lines of what Hopper has been launching, including its cancel-for-any-reason policy?

This comes after the success of Airbnb’s flexible search launch last year. In May 2021, Airbnb introduced “I’m Flexible”, a new way to search on Airbnb when guests are flexible about where or when they are traveling, and and in November last year it expanded with “I’m (even more) Flexible”, adding a date range of up to 12 months with a total of nearly 30 categories of different types of stays. It is now touting has been used more than 2 billion times since it launch, and said it has helped distribute guest demand more widely. Guests who use this feature are more likely to book in less popular places, it said.

The good news for us: a day after this launch, Airbnb’s Global Head of Hosting Catherine Powell is speaking at our Future of Lodging Forum May 12, I will be interviewing her on stage and will dig further into this based one what they announced the day before.

Tags: airbnb, earnings, future of lodging, short-term rentals