Skift Take

Interesting new attempt by Airbnb to rethink how people search and discover on its product and likely to finally spur some innovation in travel search and booking.

Airbnb is launching one of its biggest changes in how people discover and search for places to stay on its platform, by expanding its search categories from a limited number to 56 as of now and more to come later. It is reorganizing its homepage and app search around what it is calling Airbnb Categories.

Starting Wednesday in the United States and globally later this week, potential guests will be able to search for everything from bed & breakfasts and tiny homes to camping, national parks, and countryside properties, organized into these categories. Property categories had mostly been divided into a limited number of generic categories until now, such as houses, apartments, guesthouses, hotels, camping and glamping, farmland stays, and minimalist spaces, for example.

I will be interviewing Catherine Powell, Airbnb’s Global Head of Hosting at our Future of Lodging Forum event that is starting today, and will dig more into this new launch and more, join us in NYC last minute or online.

The company said that a majority of its listings are now categorized through a mix of machine learning and human oversight. Each of these listings are ultimately manually checked for the right metadata on categories.

In addition, Airbnb expanded its AirCover insurance for hosts to guests in an overture to protect guests against instances when hosts cancel stays within 30 days of the check-in, or the property doesn’t turn out as advertised. Airbnb is giving guests three days to report such problems — up from the current 24 hours — and promises to find guests a similar or better property, or a refund.

Some hosts have criticized the expansion of the complaint timeframe, arguing that guests should know within the first 24 hours whether a property wasn’t actually as listed, and that three days opens things up for scammers looking for free weekends, for example.

Airbnb also rolled out a convenient feature that it called Split Stays that enables guests to view more potential properties than in searches until now, and to split their stays between two homes when browsing for longer trips. For example, if someone searches for a stay in a national park, Airbnb might point the guest to stays in two adjacent national parks. Brian Chesky, CEO of Airbnb at a media event yesterday hinted at this new feature being one of the indirect ways it is trying to solve the inventory issue in a destination: if places in a destination are booked up for all the dates a traveller wants, this new feature will suggest properties within drivable/commuting distance that are.

As is often the case with the Airbnb public relations machine, the announcement tended toward overkill, though .

“Travel search has been the same for 25 years — you enter a location and dates into a search box,” the announcement said.

Well, that’s not entirely accurate, and is even dismissive of the flexible search feature that Airbnb introduced in 2021. Kayak many years ago pioneered filters, and today enables users to search for everything from free breakfasts to all-inclusive properties, even though the quasi-editorial curation layer that Airbnb has launched today has been missing at scale.

Expedia also last week introduced a feature on mobile that highlights each property’s amenities, from housekeeping to gyms and parking, even before the detailed property description for comparison purposes with other locations.

Rival Vrbo, while offering many amenities filters, as does Airbnb, only enables searches for a limited number of property types, including house, apartment or condo, pool, pets allowed, townhouse, and studio, for example.

Still, Airbnb’s expanded number of property categories will improve the search experience for people who are looking for specific or otherwise interesting home or apartment types. Expect potentially more innovations to come across the industry players on how to search and discovers stays, and some of this to bleed into hotel search products, learning from early pioneers in this such as Mr & Mrs Smith and Tablet Hotels.

Airbnb’s expanded property search categories will be an interesting experiment to watch play out, and to see what the adoption is among Airbnb’s users.

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Tags: airbnb, expedia, future of lodging, guests, hosts, insurance, kayak, long-term stays, online travel newsletter, search, vrbo

Photo credit: Airbnb is making it easier to search for specific home types.

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