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Airbnb is taking steps to increase its traction with hosts, namely to find new ones and to keep them. Its level of success will depend on how well it executes these changes in practice.

Airbnb took several steps to ease the process of onboarding new hosts, increased damage protections, and added a half-dozen new search categories, including trending homes and those adapted for wheelchair access.

“We have more people turning to hosting than ever before, not least because of the volatile, challenging economic environment,” Airbnb Global Head of Hosting Catherine Powell told Skift Tuesday ahead of today’s announcement about the company’s winter release of product changes. “We want to continue to make it easier and simpler for everyday people make incremental income and to list their space on Airbnb.”

The company calls the new process of getting newbie hosts up and running and taking bookings Airbnb Setup. Under the plan, Airbnb will automatically match new hosts with experienced superhosts — 1,500 superhosts in more than 80 countries at launch — who can walk new hosts through the process of creating a listing, and even temporarily take over control of their listings to help get them started. The service is free for hosts, and can last through the first guest booking.

New hosts can also choose an experienced guest, meaning one who’s had at least three stays and has positive reviews, for their first booking as another way to ease the getting started process for hosts, the company said.

Automatically pairing new hosts with a select group of superhosts expands on Airbnb’s existing Ask a Superhost program, where new new hosts can get advice from more experienced peers. Airbnb Setup is geared to be more comprehensive than Ask a Superhost, and would include the ability to communicate with assigned superhost partners via text, audio, or video through the Airbnb platform, the company said.

Airbnb Setup likewise includes support from “a specially trained team of community support agents,” according to the announcement, for a year. New hosts supposedly get “one tap access” from within the app to this support team to help with payment issues or other account problems. The service would be available via text, email and phone in more than 42 languages, Airbnb said.

Expanding AirCover Protections

Airbnb also increased damage protections for hosts under its free AirCover insurance plan to $3 million, up from the current $1 million, added protections for cars, boats, art and valuables, and the company said it reduced the steps to file a claim from the current 14 to three. The process for getting compensated for a claim would remain an average of two weeks after the claim gets filed, Powell said.

More Search Categories

Following Airbnb’s introduction in May of a bevy of new search categories for guests, the company said Wednesday it is rolling out a half-dozen new ones, including: New (properties that have been added to the platform over the prior 10 weeks); Top of the world (homes at 10,000 feet higher than sea level); Trending (top-rated homes that are getting more listing views than the prior week); Adapted (homes with wheelchair access that have step-free access entering the home, and to a bedroom and bathroom); Play (properties with amenities such as basketball courts and water slides); and Hanoks (Korean traditional homes made from natural construction materials).

Recruiting and retaining hosts is a key priority for Airbnb as it competes with other platforms, and seeks to have ample listings to meet strong demand. Airbnb stated it had a record 90 million arrivals in the third quarter, which ended September 30.

In October, Jamie Lane, vice president of research for short-term rental analysis firm AirDNA, tweeted that “over half of Airbnb’s current listings have been added since 2020.”

When pressed, Powell wouldn’t concede that host churn is an issue for Airbnb, saying at various points that the number of hosts on Airbnb is “over 4 million and it’s remained pretty stable.” She added that if Airbnb is successful in understanding hosts’ needs and they achieve success, then “hosts will remain loyal to Airbnb.”

Reflecting the current economic environment, Powell said Airbnb has seen a 30 percent increase in private room listings year over year, and that 50 percent of hosts tell Airbnb that they need to host to earn income to make mortgage payments or otherwise remain in their homes.

“We are very comfortable with where we are and the growth we are seeing with our hosts on Airbnb,” Powell said.

Vincenzo, a superhost in Milan, Italy, who declined to give his last name, said it would be a good thing if Airbnb simplified the steps required to file a claim under its AirCover insurance plan for hosts. He described the current process for filing a claim, which he had done, as “not easy because they require receipts that you can’t get right away.”

“The AirCover protection is a very good thing,” Vincenzo said, “and it is one of the reasons why I started using Airbnb instead of Booking. The truth is lately, in my opinion, Airbnb’s assistance is not what it used to be. But I can tell you I used it and got compensation.”

Vincenzo added: “I understand that it’s not easy for Airbnb, but considering that they take pretty high commissions I think they need to be a little closer to the hosts.”

Another superhost, Florestano Aielli, whose property is located just outside Amalfi, Italy, said he once tried to file a claim under AirCover but the 14 steps it entails “is a bit too long.”

Aielli said he prefers not to file claims because sometimes hosts can receive a negative review from an “unfair guest” in retaliation for filing a claim.

He wondered if perhaps Airbnb might implement a new procedure that involves the host to “withdraw the negative feedback” in such cases because “reviews are very important.”

Powell said Airbnb introduced a process last year that enables hosts to dispute guest reviews if guests broke a rule such as having a house party or bringing a pet when pets aren’t allowed in the property, but Airbnb wouldn’t delete a guest review related to an AirCover claim unless the guest intentionally damaged furniture, for example, or violated other rules.

In addition, Airbnb said Wednesday it plans to initiate a chatbot next year that enables hosts to dispute a review they feel is retaliatory through a chatbot rather than have to contact community support.

Did the New Categories Adversely Impact Hosts?

There have been numerous reports, many on social media or in Airbnb forums, that many hosts saw their bookings dry up after Airbnb introduced its new search categories in May. An Airbnb spokesperson that isn’t the feedback the company has received from a majority of hosts.

Asked about that issue, Powell said “our demand is very, very strong,” and that there have been 300 million guest views of the categories over the last six or so months.

“Hosts told us they want to know which category they are in,” Powell said. “That was frustrating for them. So we’re introducing tools next year so they know what category they are in.”

Hosts can then add more detail to their listings — such as how far the property is from a national park — to support their properties’ inclusion in specific categories, she said.

For his part, superhost Aielli outside Amalfi said he saw a positive impact on his bookings after Airbnb introduced the new categories last May, and superhost Vincenzo in Milan said the search category additions didn’t impact his business.

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Tags: airbnb, future of lodging, guests, hosts, insurance, reviews, search

Photo credit: An Airbnb host greets guests. Airbnb made it easier for hosts to get their first bookings. Airbnb

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