Airbnb has been out there a lot these last couple of weeks talking about its new product updates and launches, and CEO and Co-Founder Brian Chesky has been surprisingly open about what went wrong from the original vision, how he runs the company and what’s coming in the company’s AI-driven future, even beyond its core.
Now in a new interview on The Verge’s Decoder podcast, while he goes over the familiar territory he has talked about to me and others in recent days, he also articulates that his future vision for Airbnb is. Worth reading/listening to the short clip, and gives hints to community and connection, which currently is more varpoware in Airbnb’s main product than reality, as being the main focus going ahead, in areas beyond its core of accommodation.
“Our vision for this company is the following: that Airbnb is a marriage of art and science, that we’re a truly creatively-led company. Our two core values are basically design creativity married with technologies and then this idea of community and connection. A company with this real humanistic feel that you come to Airbnb, we ask you a series of questions.
We learn about you. We understand who you are, what you want. We design these incredibly simple interfaces, and then our job as a host is we develop these really robust matching algorithms, and then we can match you to whatever you want.
And so if we can build this incredibly robust identity system, if we can have the most robust profiles, almost like a physical social network where we can connect people together in this community, if we can use AI to augment customer service, to deeply understand and resolve your issues within seconds, not just minutes or hours, and we can then build these incredibly simple interfaces where we match you to whatever you want in your life, that’s basically the idea of where we’re trying to go. And Jony Ive and his team, they’re working on things just in that area.”
Airbnb released a host of new upgrades and features in its summer release last week. Airbnb chief executive officer Brian Chesky has promised to work on more.
In a response to a suggestion from a user on Twitter, Chesky hinted at working on: lower cleaning fees, better search & filters, verified listings, better customer service, guest loyalty program, total price with taxes, better review system and lower prices.
“Millions of people have given us feedback on how to improve Airbnb. We’ve listened,” Airbnb co-founder and CEO Brian Chesky said during the announcement. “Today, we’re introducing the most extensive set of updates ever. Our design-driven approach means we’re always making Airbnb better, and our over 50 new features and upgrades are just the beginning. We will never stop improving Airbnb.”
The company said that the summer release was a response to user and host feedback. At the center of this is Airbnb Rooms, which the company characterizes as “an all-new take on the original Airbnb.” There is now a rooms category with over 1 million listings, redesigned filters and added new privacy and other features.
For guests, the features include total price display — so guests can view the total price with fees, before taxes, across the entire app including in search results, price filter, maps, and listing pages. There is also now a “months” tab to look for hosts accommodating longer-term guests. For stays over three months, the guest service fee after the third month will be reduced.
Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky was very open with me in the interview I did with him earlier this week, where he tantalizingly hinted at how Airbnb will change in the next year, much of it predicated on AI.
In it, here are the few long range things he talked about: “We’re going to launch a whole bunch of new things in the next couple years…Basically the short answer is next May you’re going to see a whole new Airbnb. AI’s going to be at the center of it…The real vision is what if there Airbnb app could be almost like the ultimate host, the ultimate concierge… Each thing is going to get bigger and bigger. November will be pretty big. A year from now will be huge, it’ll be really big.” He told me that in the short term, Airbnb will focus on improving customer service and summarizing reviews using AI, and by next year a conversational AI interface will come to the Airbnb app.
But what is coming beyond these somewhat obvious changes at Airbnb? Chesky elaborated on some of these in a podcast interview with Jason Calacanis on “This Week in Startups” including the hint that Airbnb is planning to move beyond its core of travel, in the next few years, though the timeline is fuzzy, at one time he said in the next year and later in the podcast he said next 3-5 years. Some extracts from the rough auto-transcript that leads me to believe the expansion of Airbnb beyond travel will be in the connection, matching and personalization realm, though exactly how is of course unclear for now.
“We have some big ideas coming. We have some really huge ideas that I think will expand Airbnb way beyond travel way beyond our core. It’s gonna launch next year…AI’s gonna unlock so many of them, but we don’t have permission to do new things things until people love our core service. So we’re gonna basically create a blueprint of every single thing people are complaining about.”
“The third, and this is more on the opportunity, is monthly stays. That’s a growing part of our business. People think of us as a travel company, but 20% of our businesses now housing and Airbnb, there’s a lot of problems with monthly stays.”
“And If you and I both ask ChatGPT a question, we mostly get the same answer and we mostly get the same answer because it doesn’t know who you or I am. And that’s great for some questions like what was the like, you know like how far is the moon from the sun or whatever. Like there’s one right answer, but if you ask like, where should I travel? Your answer and my answer are probably different. And so some problems are search problems, some problems are kind of matching and personalization preferences, problems….so what we wanna do is we wanna be one of the best companies for AI personalization. So we wanna develop really good tune models to do that. We have to change our business. And actually one of the questions that Johnny Ive told me when we brought him on the team is he said you need to switch from beyond “where and when.” Right now you ask where are you going and when are you going? And we need to shift to who and what. Who are you and what do you want? And that’s really the vision. And so who we wanna do is we want to build these robust profiles. I want to start to learn Jason, who you are, build really good rich customer information. And then I can understand and personalize like where do you want to go? And also what do you want in your life? Like you looking for inspiration, what are you, what are you looking for?”
“Do you like want to get healthy? Do you, you know, and you start to learn about people. And then we’re also pretty good interfaces and the application layer and I think that Airbnb, that’s where we’re really, really gonna focus. We’re gonna focus on the tuning of the models, the most personalized AI interface and then really good application interfaces. Now I think as far as interface, I don’t think they’re all gonna be just text-based…Like Charles Eames, one of the greatest in our 20th century said the role of designer is that of a thoughtful host anticipating needs of the guests. So that’s what we should do. And we understand who are you, what do you want, where do you want to go?”
AND this is the most interesting thing Chesky said: “And maybe it, we could even go beyond travel if we get there, right? And the part of that means you have to trust us to give us your personal information. It means we have to be a marriage of art and science. It means we have to understand a lot about like human psychology and know what you want. It’s not just a technical problem. We have to design unique AI interfaces that are probably richer than just text inputs because you know like, like you want to, you want to see and feel things, right? And, and and I think it’s much more immersive. So that’s where I think it goes. That’s like the long-term vision in the interim. And that’s probably long-term is in three to five years. I mean that’s not even that long term. Yeah. In the next year what we’re gonna do is three things.”
“You come to Airbnb and it looks the same as it did the last time you came. Yeah. And we’re like a marketplace and everything’s a transaction and we assume you’re like we don’t know anything about you and you just walked into a store and we got a bunch of stuff on a shelf. Yeah. And I think that’s a very 1990s, two thousands Amazon paradigm of commerce. And I think the future of commerce is more like somebody’s showing you around and they understand you deeply and you have so much more control and it’s significantly more personalized and everyone has a unique experience. And so that’s where I think it goes. And I think that we don’t have a search problem in the future. We have a matching problem. So we are gonna use AI to match you to whatever you want.”
“I think in the age of artificial intelligence, the other thing people want is authenticity. And authenticity is whatever’s real and whatever’s authenticated. So I think our brand is kind of authenticity. Like we’re not gonna ever be the most digitally immersive company that’s gonna be social media or entertainment. Our value is really the physical world. We get you online, offline with people different from you all over the world. And that comes with starting with knowing who you are, authenticating your identity.”
Airbnb has suspended hosting of all lodgings in Myanmar as the country has implemented strict laws prohibiting foreign tourists from staying at unregistered guesthouses or hotels.
February this year marked the two year anniversary after the military coup at the start of February 2021, when democratically elected members of the country’s ruling party, the National League for Democracy, were deposed by the Tatmadaw [Myanmar’s military] in a military junta.
The military set a deadline in January for political parties to re-register under a new electoral law and dissolved 40 parties Tuesday, including Suu Kyi’s NLD, for failing to meet the registration deadline. ”We want to see a return to democracy in Myanmar. We would like to see the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and other people who continue to be detained, and we will continue to work towards that,” said UN Spokesperson Stephane Dujarric.
It is illegal to rent out private homes or offer short-term rentals to tourists in Myanmar – those failing to abide by the laws could face up to three years in prison. Only permanent residents and foreigners holding specific business visas are permitted to rent out apartments or houses on a short-term basis.
Airbnb sent out email notices two weeks ago to hosts in Myanmar informing them their listings and reservations are no longer available. It told hosts that their listing would no longer show up on Airbnb.
Separately, on the other side of the world, Airbnb is also removing listings that haven’t received a permit from the government of Quebec following a fatal fire in Montreal in a building that was located in a section of the city where authorities barred short-term rentals.
The Swiss city of Lucerne is the latest to place restrictions on short-term rentals. Lucerne citizens voted (64 percent) to limit short-term rental stays to a maximum of 90 days per year.
Lucerne is the fifth city in Switzerland after Geneva, Zurich, Basel and Bern to cap short-term rentals. The initiative was led by Social Democratic Party, aimed to cap rentals available on a temporary basis to make more housing available to residents of the city.
Bern is one of the top tourist destinations in the country, and those opposed to the move warned that it might risk losing incoming tourists.
Switzerland joins a number of cities across Europe to curtail short-term rentals via platforms like Airbnb, Vrbo. Earlier this month, Portugal proposed a ban on issuing new licenses to operate short-term rentals in a move to manage the cost-of-living and housing crisis.
There are similar restrictions in Madrid, Andalusia, Barcelona and Valencia in Spain.
This comes on the heels of the European Commission approving new rules about collecting and sharing data on short-term accommodation at EU level. Beyond data-sharing, the EU-level regulations aim to reduce fragmentation among local communities, clamp down illegal listings and promote sustainable tourism in keeping with local laws and regional mandates across Europe.
Tripadvisor filled in the blanks, naming two executive appointments to flesh out a reorganization of its core business that the company disclosed during its fourth quarter earnings call a week ago.
Sanjay Raman, who had previous stints at Airbnb, Greylock and Google, starting working in January as chief product officer, a new position within Tripadvisor’s core business segment.
Likewise, Kristen Dalton, who has served in Tripadvisor roles since 2019 as vice president of financial planning and analysis and interim head of the company’s business to consumer group, started serving in January as chief operating officer of the company’s core business. That is a new position, as well.
Core Business Is Distinct From Viator and TheFork
What is Tripadvisor’s core business? Tripadvisor defines it as “Tripadvisor branded hotels, Tripadvisor branded display and platform, Tripadvisor experiences and dining revenue, and other revenue,” including cruise. Tripadvisor recently de-emphasized vacation rentals, flights, car rentals within its “other revenue” category.
Although Tripadvisor experiences and dining revenue are part of the core segment, the separately branded Viator experiences and TheFork dining revenue don’t fall within the core business. That means the January appointees won’t be responsible for Viator and TheFork, which have separate teams.
With the appointments and the reorganization of Tripadvisor’s core segment, Tripadvisor now had functionally led teams in operations (led by Dalton), marketing (John Boris), product (Raman) and engineering (Sugata Mukhopadhyay).
Under the prior structure, the teams were organized along business to consumer and business to business lines.
While Viator reached 171 percent of 2019 revenue levels in 2022, TheFork hit 99 percent, and Tripadvisor’s core business generated only 79 percent of 2019 revenue.
Pending legislation in Puerto Rico would limit the use of short-term rentals in residential areas to 30 percent of the property, a move that an Airbnb official characterized as a “defacto prohibition.”
“Thousands of properties in Puerto Rico could be deleted or eliminated, which provide this service, which welcome millions of visitors to Puerto Rico, who have been part of the success of Puerto Rican tourism,”Carlos Muñoz , Airbnb’s director of public policy and communications for Central America and the Caribbean told Elnuevodia.com.
House bill 1557, which was introduced in November, would require hosts who seek to use more than 30 percent of their space for short-term rentals to apply for a permit to change the designated use from residential to commercial.
The legislation is geared to thwart short-term rentals’ sometimes-disruptive impact on neighborhoods, including house parties, affordable housing shortages, and escalating rents.
Muñoz claimed that Airbnb’s footprint in Puerto Rico represented about 1 percent of the housing stock, the story said. However, short-term rentals made up more than half the available housing in cities such as San Juan, Cataño and Aguadilla, and around one-third in other popular tourism areas in 2022, according to Abexus Analytics, the story said.
However, the Center for a New Economy recently conducted a study on the impact of short-term rentals in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. The study found that a 10 percent increase in short-term rental density in relation to the total number of housing units, led to a 7 percent increase in median rents and a 23 percent jump in housing unit prices.
Actor (and travel tech investor) Ashton Kutcher is at it again, as his Sound Ventures venture capital firm has co-led a $15 million investment in climate tech company Chooose.
It’s the latest in a long chapter of travel investing for Kutcher, revealed on Friday, with previous deals including Affirm, Airbnb, Hipmunk and Citymaps, which was bought by TripAdvisor .
Norway-based Chooose, which offers climate solutions such as carbon offsetting, carbon removals and sustainable aviation fuel, already works with global companies and airlines including British Airways, Air Canada and Japan Airlines. It also works with Booking.com, Trip.com and SAP Concur.
Startups like this have fast emerged out of the need to give companies better insight into their carbon footprints when flying. This extra capital will go towards scaling up its platform, and further “embed climate action solutions into customer experiences.” It also plans to expand into new geographies, thanks to the funding provided by Soundwaves, which is the sustainability-focused vehicle of Kutcher’s fund.
GenZero, a decarbonisation-focused investment company owned by Singapore’s Temasek, also co-led the investment round. Existing investors Shell Ventures and Vinyl Capital also participated in the strategic capital round. Other current investors include travel technology giant Amadeus and Contrarian VC.
UPDATE: This article was amended to remove the series B mention, which had originally been provided.
Building on initiatives that had mixed results in the past, Airbnb is debuting an Airbnb-Friendly Apartments program to enable long-term renters in multifamily buildings where landlords permit it to list their rooms or apartments on Airbnb.
For both guests and hosts, one of the things the program aims to do is avoid the all-too-frequent situation where guests have to pretend they are part of the host’s visiting family or a close friend because the building doesn’t allow Airbnb rentals.
The newest incarnation of the program enables long-term renters to browse for multifamily buildings that allow Airbnb short-term rentals, get in touch with the management of the building, and, like other first-time hosts, get access to experienced hosts to help with starting out on Airbnb and listing their apartments.
“Renters interested in hosting a spare room, or their entire apartment when they’re out of town, can browse more than 175 Airbnb-friendly apartment buildings, subject to availability, in 25+ markets across the U.S., including Houston, Phoenix, and Jacksonville,” Airbnb stated as part of the announcement.
The company added that renters participating in this multifamily building program over three months hosted an average of nine nights per month and earned an average of $900 net of Airbnb and landlord fees.