An “urgent focus” on affordability has prompted Airbnb to promote more heavily rooms inside people’s homes, rather than entire properties, shifting back to the travel platform’s roots.
The business will elevate the prominence of its one million single-room listings as holidaymakers tighten their belts, and attempt to address apprehension over the prospect of staying with a stranger.
Airbnb, increasingly concerned with the perception its service has grown more expensive, will make room listings — typically cheaper than those for entire properties — more visible on its platform from today.
“Actions speak louder than words,” Brian Chesky, co-founder and chief executive, told The Times. “Our actions are that we have prioritised the most affordable way to travel on Airbnb as the thing that we’ve chosen to invest in.
“You always have to meet people where they are. You have to be relevant to the market. We cannot be out of sync with the market. And what the public is saying is, ‘We want to save money’.”
With inflation and fears of recession looming over consumers across many of its key markets, Airbnb has grappled in recent years with claims that its platform had grown more expensive. Last year it sought to make the total cost of bookings clearer following frustration with cleaning fees on top of core rates.
In an attempt to tackle concerns over safety, and unease around the prospect of staying inside someone’s home, Airbnb will also encourage hosts — the people who rent out rooms on its platform — to share more information about themselves with users.
“The No 1 answer is a lot of people said they felt uncomfortable staying with a stranger in their home,” Chesky said. “And I get it. That sounds like a little bit of a crazy idea.”
Single-room listings on Airbnb will also clearly mark whether the room has a lock, if the bathroom is shared or private, and who else will be staying at the property. Hosts will be able to share tidbits, such as where they went to school, in “passports” for users to peruse.
Based in San Francisco, Airbnb is one of the world’s largest travel businesses. Founded in 2008 and as Airbed & Breakfast, the platform initially let people rent out rooms to travellers, before expanding to allow whole properties the following year. Today it has some 6.6 million listings and, having gone public in 2020, the group has a stock market valuation of $76 billion.
The company has faced accusations of fuelling “overtourism” in areas such as Cornwall, where some residents complain that a boom in Airbnb properties has intensified the peak travel season and exacerbated a housing crisis.
“The bigger a business is, the more scrutiny or criticism it deserves,” Chesky said. “Is all of it fair? Probably not. Broad brushstrokes. We’re not responsible for all the people coming off cruise ships and flooding tourist districts.
“I think the vast majority of people on Airbnb stay longer than they [would] stay in hotels, so maybe they are — by definition — less transient than hotel travellers. Fifty per cent of our nights are for stays longer than a week.
“Some of the criticism is fair. I think it really varies from city to city. Generally, when I talk to cities, I think it helps more than it hurts them.
“I never want to make a broad blanket statement like, ‘We’re good everywhere for everyone’. If you say that, then you’re not being thoughtful about what negative impact you have. You have to be nuanced; you have to go city by city, community by community.”
A change on Airbnb’s platform last year, encouraging users to search for potential trips by category, rather than location, has been “pretty effective” so far at redistributing demand, Chesky claimed.
In future, its search function could prioritise areas that want more tourism over those that want less. “We haven’t figured that part out yet,” he said. “But I think it’s solvable down the road.”