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 said that the flexible search features it has rolled out since early 2021 have so far diverted bookings from destinations coping with overtourism and peak travel times, according to data it shared on Friday.
The short-term rental booking giant has increasingly offered search tools — see Skift’s earlier coverage: “Airbnb’s Next Big Change: Search” — in response to evidence that many people don’t have a destination or fixed dates in mind when they start researching trips.
“In 2019, the top 10 most visited cities on Airbnb in the European Union — including Paris, Barcelona, and Rome — accounted for 20 percent of all trips in Europe, whereas they account for just 14 percent of trips in 2022.”
“Guests using flexible search tools book less often in the 20 most popular destinations on Airbnb in Europe (-17.5 percent) and more often in less-visited communities ranked outside Airbnb’s top 400 destinations (+35.5 percent), when compared to guests booking via traditional search on Airbnb.”
“Guests booking via Airbnb’s flexible search tool—that provides an option to include a location without dates—are also more likely to book outside the top 10% most popular dates (-7.3 percent) and are more likely to book nights on weekdays (+5.7 percent).”
“Flexible search is also helping to redirect guests approximately 5 miles farther away from their initial intended location within cities, compared to traditional searchers on Airbnb … In Amsterdam, flexible bookers more often stay outside the city’s inner limits (+32.5 percent) compared to traditional bookers.”
As context: Airbnb’s search changes had two components.
People who don’t have a destination in mind can now be inspired by Airbnb’s new “Categories” category, which has been viewed more than 120 million times since August, according to company statements. This tool helps divert reservations away from Europe’s most saturated hotspots, according to Nathan Blecharczyk, Airbnb co-founder and chief strategy officer, when discussing the report at Web Summit in Lisbon on Thursday.
Travelers with flexible dates have been able to take advantage of Airbnb’s recently added feature that lets them say they’re really interested in traveling anywhere for a week and a week or a month anytime in the next year. The tool lets some travelers avoid peak time crushes in travel because of seasonality.
“What we want to do now is we want to be more in the inspiration business,” Chesky said. “You come to Airbnb and we can point demand to where we have supply. … We can highlight what makes us unique and get into the top of the purchasing funnel, which is basically giving people ideas of where to travel based on what’s available.”
Skift coined the term overtourism to describe “a potential hazard to popular destinations worldwide, as the dynamic forces that power tourism often inflict unavoidable negative consequences if not managed well.”