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Skift Travel News Blog

Short stories and posts about the daily news happenings around the travel industry.

Overtourism

Airbnb Data Says Flexible Search Tools Help Combat Overtourism

1 year ago

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.

Some of Airbnb’s new data points from its first whitepaper on “sustainable tourism” (embedded below).

  • “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.

The report’s data points echos comments Co-founder and CEO Brian Chesky made at Skift Global Forum in September.

“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.”

Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky (see full video)

Airbnb has been attempting to cope with the overtourism ever since 2018, when it created an “office of healthy tourism,” which at the time was the company’s term for proper tourism growth management. It began adding flexible search tools in early 2021, as Skift reported.

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.”

See Airbnb’s sustainable tourism report, below:

Online Travel

South Korean Antitrust Watchdog Fines Booking.com and Agoda

1 year ago

South Korea’s antitrust regulator said Tuesday it would slap two Booking Holdings brands fines of $1,750 (2.5 million won) for its flagship brand Booking.com — and a similar fine on sister brand Agoda — for not clearly telling customers that their search results are partly based on advertising, Yonhap News Agency reported.

CORRECTION: This article originally reported an inaccurate currency conversion of $1.75 million per fine.

The Korea Fair Trade Commission said the online travel booking brands had “deceived” customers by not clearly saying that they had listed certain businesses, such as hotels, at the top of their search results partly because those companies had paid fees for the privilege.

The regulator said the practice might lead some customers to think certain businesses were at the top of search restuls solely because of their services and facilities, Yonhap reported.

Booking.com placed a “thumbs-up” logo next to hotels that paid fees, but the regulator said that was inadequate. Agoda used phrases, such as “Agoda Growth Program,” next to listings for hotels that had paid for premium placement, but the regulator faulted that practice as being insufficiently clear.

UPDATE: A Booking.com spokesperson provided the following statement:

“While we have a different view of the decision taken by the KFTC, we accept the judgment. At Booking, we always strive to comply with local laws and regulations in every country we operate in and more often than not, voluntarily go beyond the minimum compliance requirements instituted in the local legal framework. We strongly believe in the importance of continually improving the consumer experience on our website and mobile apps to bring transparency, choice, and value to travelers.”

—A Booking.com spokesperson.

Over the last several years, many online travel companies have become the subject of investigations by various national competition authorities for advertising, contractural, and selling practices.

Online Travel

Booking.com to Test Guest ID Verification and Payment Alternatives for Foreign Purchases

1 year ago

Booking Holdings is hiring rapidly at its new engineering office in Bengaluru, India, to work on new projects such as how to verify guest identification with machine learning and new products such as alternative forms of international payment to traditional credit and debit cards.

The parent company of Booking.com has about 20 employees at its tech center now but expects to ramp that up to about 100 by year-end, according to The Times of India. The business unit will work on how to use artificial intelligence and machine learning to better manage risks and hassles in travel transactions.

The company wants to verify IDs such as passports and driving licenses by linking the company to sources of identification data and using artificial intelligence and machine learning to scan these and verify identities automatically.

That is one of the projects that the Bengaluru office will tackle, Daniel Marovitz, senior vice president of fintech at Booking.com, told The Times of India.

The team will also look at possibly building a “foreign exchange card” as an alternative form of payment to a traditional credit or debit card. Today, many credit and debit cards charge a different, higher foreign exchange rate than the lowest available on the market.

The planned Booking.com product would attempt to offer a cheaper alternative. The ambition is for customers to use the card, which will come in physical and digital forms, for routine purchases and not just for booking a hotel. It may eventually enable customers to take advantage of buy-now-pay-later and other insurance-like products that Booking Holdings might operate on its own as a financial technology player.

Both projects fit with Booking Holdings CEO Glenn Fogel‘s vision for “a connected trip” that he laid out at Skift Global Forum in September (see video).

The news of the product testing and development dovetails with recent Skift Megatrends about the financialization of travel and how the rise of global mobile wallets are upending travel payments.

Travel Booking

Hapi Travel Launches Subscription Service for the U.S. Market

1 year ago

Subscription travel platform Hapi Travel Destinations has launched in the U.S.

More brands are building paid travel subscriptions, powered by shifts in traveler priorities and work-life flexibility, but Hapi Travel also wants to expand by offering “additional income in the new gig economy.”

A subsidiary of direct-sell specialist Sharing Services Global Corporation, it plans to add more “promoters” and says it lets users earn points when they book a vacation for their next trip, but also earn them when they refer other people.

It also claims to offer travel savings, which come at a cost: its Explorer subscription involves a basic monthly membership fee of $50 a month, while its Elite+ package costs $2,500 to join, and then $244 a year.

It offers discounts on hotels, resorts, cruises and condos, as well as car rentals, activities, flights and shopping, leveraging its direct-sell business.

“This new and unique membership-based travel club is designed for everyone to enjoy maximum savings and travel perks on the most luxurious vacation getaways throughout the world or save money on ordinary daily personal or corporate travel,” said John Thatch, CEO of Sharing Services Global Corporation.

In July, membership-focused travel tech firm Mondee went public. It mainly offers cloud-based tools to so-called “gig travel agents,” a category of independent workers it claims is growing. But the 1,000-employee company also offers direct-to-consumer subscription travel sales, rewards-based business travel programs, wholesaling services, and other offerings.