Skift Take

No, Brian Chesky isn't necessarily talking about launching flights on Airbnb when he refers to becoming a "cross-vertical company." Google Flights, relax.

On the back of its November acquisition of GamePlanner.AI, Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky said his company can create a new AI interface, and that it will help transform Airbnb into a “cross-vertical company” like Amazon or Apple.

As with several of Chesky’s previous statements about generative AI, this one was heavy on vision with no product launches yet. He pledged Tuesday “you will see some very big announcements later this year.”

Let’s break down what Chesky said:

  • Airbnb will not build an AI Large Language Model, which is the backbone of generative AI, but will create an adaptive interface for it “unlike no interface you’ve ever seen before.” It could be “one of the leading and most innovative AI interfaces ever created.”
  • He said generative AI is underutilized because the interfaces are so outdated.
  • That new interface would enable Airbnb to transform itself from focusing on a single vertical to a cross-vertical company like Amazon did expanding beyond books, and Apple accomplished when it launched the app store.
  • This might entail Airbnb creating an app that is “the ultimate concierge,” always evolving and highly personalized.

Many companies in the travel sector, from to Expedia and smaller companies, are adding consumer-facing apps that rely on generative AI. Most haven’t been massively adopted yet by travelers, and few if any have boasted that their applications will be the best on the planet.

Airbnb CEO on Generative AI

Here’s the text of what Chesky said on the topic during Airbnb’s earnings call Tuesday in response to an analyst’s question:

“So I think, to talk about AI, it would be good to zoom out, just lay out the landscape. One way to think about AI is, let’s use a real-world metaphor. I mentioned we’re building a city. And in that city, we have infrastructure, like roads and bridges. And then on top of those roads and bridges, we have applications like cars.

“So Airbnb is not an infrastructure company. Infrastructure would be a large language model or, obviously, GPUs. So we’re not going to be investing in infrastructure. So we’re not going to be building a large language model. We’ll be relying on, obviously, OpenAI. Google makes – or creates a model, Meta creates models. So those are really infrastructure. They’re really developing infrastructure.

“But where we can excel is on the application layer. And I believe that we can build one of the leading and most innovative AI interfaces ever created. And maybe one way to make this real is if you were to open, say, ChatGPT or Google, though the models are very powerful, the interface is really not an AI interface. It’s the same interface as the 2000s, in a sense, the 2010s. It’s a typical classical web interface. So we feel like the models, in a sense, are probably underutilized.

“Here’s another way of saying it. Take your phone and look at all the icons on your phone. Most of those apps have not fundamentally changed since the advent of generative AI. So what I think AI represents is the ultimate platform shift. We had the internet. We had mobile. Airbnb really rose during the rise of mobile.

“And the thing about a platform shift, as you know, there is also a shift in power. There’s a shift of behavior. And so I think this is a 0-0 ball game, where Airbnb, we have a platform that was built for one vertical short-term space. And I think with AI – generative AI and developing a leading AI interface to provide an experience that’s so much more personalized than anything you’ve ever seen before.

“Imagine an app that you feel like it knows you, it’s like the ultimate concierge, an interface that is adaptive and evolving and changing in real-time, unlike no interface you’ve ever seen before. That would allow us to go from a single vertical company to a cross-vertical company. Because one of the things that we’ve noticed is the largest tech companies aren’t a single vertical.

“And we studied Amazon in the late ’90s, early 2000s, when they went from books to everything, or Apple when they launched the App Store. And these really large technology companies are horizontal platforms. And I think with AI and the work we’re doing around AI interfaces, I think that’s what you should expect of us.

“We’re not going to talk specifically on this call about the specific products and services we’re going to be offering, but you will see some very big announcements later this year. And as you know, we did an acquisition of GamePlanner AI. It was from the creator of Siri. And that was just accelerating the efforts we were already endeavoring on.”


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Tags: ai, airbnb, amazon, apple, apps, concierge, earnings, future of lodging, game, generative ai, google, meta, online travel newsletter, superapps

Photo credit: Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky at Skift Global Forum 2023. Source: Skift Skift / Skift

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