Travel & Hospitality

Market shifts, microtrends and expert opinions that signal significant change for global travel and hospitality companies and consumers

What happened to the serendipity of Airbnb?

16.03.2018 Hospitality : Travel : Luxury
Airbnb, California Airbnb, California

Considering Millennials’ much-publicised fetish for authenticity, it’s surprising that Airbnb has veered so far from its heritage.

Holly Friend, junior creative researcher, LS:N Global

Addressing a packed-out audience at ITB Berlin last week, Airbnb’s co-founder Nathan Blecharczyk unveiled his company’s plethora of launches for 2018. Behind these superfluous extras was a very clear mantra: Airbnb is for everyone. According to Blecharczyk, the company is intent on shedding its alternative image.

But what’s wrong with being alternative? The entire concept of home-sharing is rooted in the idea that it’s authentic – you’re temporarily living the life of your host, seeing a city through their eyes. Considering Millennials’ much-publicised fetish for authenticity, experiences, and that old phrase ‘living like a local’, it’s surprising that Airbnb has veered so far from its heritage.

It doesn’t take an expert to see that Airbnb’s listings have become homogeneous. The website is full of indistinguishable white-walled rooms diluted to their most basic features – essentially hotel rooms in disguise. Even I've fallen into the trap: more than once I've discovered that my Airbnb is actually an identikit flat in an Aparthotel, complete with a keycard and 24/7 reception desk – not exactly the artist’s studio in a decaying Art Nouveau building I had envisaged. Blecharczyk could be addressing this issue with Airbnb’s launch of Plus, which, on the surface, seems nostalgic for a better time. According to the campaign film, Plus homes are stylish, full of character and place greater emphasis on the host, a premise that was once at the very core of Airbnb and has slowly been chipped away. Over the years, the company has been accused of allowing tycoons to make a generous profit from a string of homes and apartments, often purchased and decorated with the sole purpose of listing them on Airbnb. According to a new study by McGill Urban Planning, the top 10% of hosts in New York generated 48% of all revenue in 2017.

Sure, Airbnb Plus will appeal to those consumers previously reluctant to give up their hotel experience. But what happened to the element of chance, or even risk?

With Plus, it’s no wonder Airbnb is so keen to promote the image of the average host as a friendly home-owner with a good sense of feng shui, just looking to make a little extra on the side. The only example of Airbnb acknowledging its somewhat more menacing breed of host was the announcement of its purpose-built Niido apartments in 2017. The Airbnb-branded accommodation in Florida will allow occupiers to easily rent out their apartments when they are away, with keyless doors and services such as linen changing. Considering how cities are enforcing new laws in an effort to regulate Airbnb, the strategy makes sense. But it’s no longer home-sharing.

Looking at Plus, with its guarantee of 4.8+ ratings, good wifi, a fully stocked fridge and seamless check-in, I still question whether this is the direction Airbnb should be going in. Sure, it will appeal to those consumers previously reluctant to give up their hotel experience. But what happened to the element of chance, or even risk? One thing that made Airbnb so endearing was the serendipity: who will you end up with? Will they speak English? Will there be a complementary bottle of local wine in the fridge? Or even just some olive oil? Now, these quirks are carefully chosen instead of stumbled upon. You can even choose to stay with a musician, and, should you get lost or your plane be delayed, a 24-hour customer service team will be at your disposal. Personally, I quite enjoyed sending the clumsy post-flight text to my host that often got lost in translation.

By introducing the likes of Plus, Niido and its forthcoming top-tier service Beyond, Airbnb's pursuit of a more mainstream consumer is putting the brand in danger of losing its alternative appeal. Perhaps, soon, the alternative will be staying in a hotel?

To find out why random encounters remain important to today's connected consumers, read our macrotrend Revelation Brands.

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