What’s Next For Airbnb: AI, Co-Hosting, Experiences, and the ‘Heartland’

Skift Take

Airbnb has been talking about introducing non-core services for an extended period. It’s an educated bet that some will trickle out this year.

Airbnb several years ago had the ambition to be a “super brand for travel.” There was talk of an Airbnb flights feature, as well as restaurants, boutique hotels and experiences. But the pandemic forced it to refocus on its core business of short-term rental stays.

New Chief Financial Officer Ellie Mertz on Monday said Airbnb is working on a bunch of adjacent services, some of which would be announced in upcoming quarters.

“I think what you should expect from us is we’re going to be looking to prioritize those things that are adjacencies to our core business so that there is a right to win and a likelihood that people will want to buy the incremental services to make the existing service and experience better,” Mertz said at a Morgan Stanley conference, her first public appearance since becoming CFO.

Airbnb Co-Hosting Services

Airbnb is looking to expand co-hosting, which some homeowners use to manage their listings if they don’t want to do it themselves, or if they don’t live in the area. Co-hosts can greet guests when they arrive, as well as handle issues and any inquiries that arise during the stay. Airbnb plans to connect hosts to co-hosts, Mertz said.

Using AI for Host Support

Airbnb hosts have chafed at times about the quality of support they get from Airbnb; the vast majority of customer services agents for hosts are third-party contractors.

Mertz said Airbnb is studying how to use AI to resolve both guest and host issues as efficiently as possible.

“If you think about our community support operations, if you are a seasonal worker in one of our partner sites, it’s a hard job to be an Airbnb agent in that you’re dealing with a guest, you’re dealing with a host, you’re dealing with online interaction, in-person interaction,” Mertz said. “You’re across many languages, often not the same language between the guest and the host. And then there’s probably 70 policies that you’re trying to reference to figure out how to resolve an issue.”

More Guest Services Including Experiences

Airbnb is planning more services for guests, as well.

Mertz said Airbnb also plans to “return” to its experiences product, which has been relatively dormant for a year. She didn’t provide any details of what a reimagined experiences feature might look like.

Airbnb is planning on enabling guests to choose more services, as well.

“There’s an opportunity for us to move beyond the accommodations to effectively fill out your travel itinerary,” Mertz said. “More to come on that in the future. Another opportunity is for us to provide services in the listing.”

Airbnb several months ago touted the possibility of introducing sponsored listings, where advertisers pay to have Airbnb give their listing a high profile on the site. Mertz said Airbnb is concerned that sponsored listings, which would undoubtably be more likely to be used by larger companies, might negatively impact individual hosts.

She said launching sponsored listings would not be a “nonstarter” but the company would have to consider whether it is “a near-term priority versus other things.”

Airbnb Will Be Picking Its Spots

Mertz reviewed some of Airbnb’s U.S. domestic and international footprint and said Airbnb’s marketing efforts would target:

The company’s non-coastal “heartland base,” as well as “the U.S.-based Hispanic population.

In the Europe, Middle East and Africa region, Airbnb will continue its focus on Germany, UK and France, and will try to pinpoint markets and smaller countries where it has done “less well.”

In Latin America, Mertz said Airbnb has done well in Brazil and Mexico and is also “seeing really nice strength in places like Chile, Peru, and Ecuador.” Airbnb sees “the opportunity to really work around that continent and raise penetration.”

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