Brian Chesky’s Covid-19 Wake-up Call

In a recent video interview with Skift founder and CEO Rafat Ali, Airbnb founder Brian Chesky talked about the clarity that comes from crisis. He reminded us that he formed Airbnb in his 20’s because he needed some money to pay rent and he wanted to meet cool people. He never thought he would be operating a travel company. Rather, he wanted to foster human connection, and that hasn’t changed. “Human connection isn’t a trend. It’s a human need,” he said.

How will travel change?

Chesky predicts that travel will be larger than ever following the pandemic because people will want to get out of their homes. Like other experts, he thinks most travelers will stay closer to home and away from crowds. He calls it ‘travel redistribution,’ which will help to spread travel dollars more widely versus concentrating it in destination cities.

Chesky predicts that more people will be working remotely after the pandemic. Because people have realized the value of Zoom meetings, business travel will be slow to pick up, but leisure travel will go up as people look to be entertained outside the house. And, as more people realize they can work from anywhere, many will choose to be digital nomads and spend a month here or there instead of buying a house or leasing an apartment for a year at a time. 

How is Airbnb’s business already changing?

Prior to Covid, one half of all stays were for longer than a week and 15% were for longer than a month. Today, more than half of the stays are longer than a month. The company is capitalizing on this trend by making it easier to book stays by the month. Airbnb now has a tab at the top of the booking window to make it easier to search for longer term rentals:

How is Airbnb thinking about cleanliness in a post-Covid world?

Chesky was quick to point out that prior to the pandemic, 70% of guests left a review and 94% of guests were happy with the cleanliness of their rentals. But he wants happiness around cleanliness to be at 99.9%, and he is looking to turn cleanliness into a strength of the business. He points out that last November the company was able to verify 100% of listings so cleanliness will simply be another challenge to tackle.

Any mea culpas?

Chesky’s one regret is that he didn’t consult hosts before refunding travelers as the shutdown began, even if they had a strict cancelation policy. As a marketplace, he needs hosts, travelers and communities to be happy and he regrets how the decision was announced. It’s clear that he’s working hard to make it up to hosts by paying out $250 million to hosts for canceled stays and launching a super host relief fund. He is also attending listening sessions with hosts to understand their perspective and what they’re looking for.

Why did he kill marketing?

While the slashing of his $800M marketing budget wasn’t discussed, Chesky did end by saying, “Travel is innate. It doesn’t need to be marketed.” 

While we agree that a love for travel lives in the soul, we also believe that marketing is what separates incredibly successful hotels from the pack. Use this time to get ready. Find your local segment in your CRM and plan some great campaigns. Remind them why they should escape into your arms when they can travel again. Roll out the red carpet and show them an amazing time. Hopefully it will be the start of an amazing new period in hospitality.

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