Airbnb to roll out new services to address host pain points

US: Airbnb is attempting to address common pain points facing new hosts in its Winter Release this week, although it was met with a mixed response from the industry.

Among the headlines included within the Winter Release was the introduction of Airbnb Setup, described as “the all-new, super easy way to Airbnb your home, with free one-to-one guidance from a Superhost”.

Designed to make it easier to become a host, Airbnb Setup allows prospective hosts to be asked where they are from and what type of home they want to list, before they are matched with a local Superhost who can then answer further questions around the onboarding process, how to boost their listing, secure higher numbers of bookings and more.

New hosts will now have the option to choose the type of guest they want to host first i.e. whether it is a new or first-time guest or a more experienced Airbnb guest. Airbnb is introducing options including Community Support agents to aid them in the event of any early issues on their hosting journey.

In last November’s Winter Release, Airbnb launched AirCover to provide “unmatched, top-to-bottom” protection for every host on the platform and this year’s Release takes the protection further, with the introduction of guest identity verification and reservation screening technology, as well as enhancing its existing protection package with $3 million in damage protection, including coverage for cars, boats, art and valuables.

Airbnb’s new identity verification has been set up to verify each guest that makes a booking and will be available in 35 countries at launch, accounting for circa 95 per cent of the platform’s reservations, before a full anticipated rollout in early 2023. The reservation screening technology has been made available initially in the United States and Canada and will block so-called “high-risk” bookings that are suspected to lead to unauthorised parties and disruption to neighbourhoods.

However, Humphrey Bowles, co-founder and CEO of digital trust platform SUPERHOG, said in response to the announcement: “Hosts will of course welcome the incremental improvements to AirCover but this raises more questions than it answers.

“Do hosts understand the cost they are paying for the service, the gaps and the deficiencies? Does this actually give them greater control? Does this mean the previous vetting was insufficient, and why should we trust them now?

“Guests are not staying with Airbnb, they are staying with a “host”, the risk is taken by the host, and therefore rather than grand statements and vanity gestures, we need more detail and transparency. Hosts have a right to know who their guests are, just as guests have a right to know their host,” he added.

The third major service enhancement to roll out this week is the introduction of six new home categories, following the redesigning of Airbnb’s platform in May that improved lodging search options. The categories include:

  • New – Homes added to Airbnb within the last ten weeks
  • Top of the world – Homes around 10,000 feet above sea level
  • Trending – Highly-rated homes that received more listing views compared to the previous week
  • Adapted – Homes adapted for wheelchair access, with verified step-free paths into the home, bedroom and bathroom
  • Play – Homes with basketball courts, game rooms, miniature golf, water slides and more
  • Hanoks – Traditional Korean homes constructed of natural materials

At the same time, existing categories will be granted enhanced visibility on the Airbnb app and more details will be presented in search results when viewing categories.

Airbnb believes it can tout more hosts to join its platform amid a global cost of living crisis, which the company says is leading to a new wave of people considering hosting for the first time. According to Airbnb, more than 60 million unique visitors have visited the company’s Host page since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, with over 40 per cent of those visiting in the last 12 months.

As people lead more flexible lives than ever before, Airbnb reported that new private room listings added to the platform rose by 31 per cent between Q3 2021 and Q3 2022.

Pools, wifi, kitchens, jacuzzis and free parking made up the top five most searched filters for British travellers seeking amenities for their short-term stays.

In a nod to the start of his venture with Airbnb when the startup was known as AirBed & Breakfast, co-founder and CEO, Brian Chesky, said that he would list a private room in his own San Francisco-based home that guests could rent out themselves.

Although industry professionals recognised Airbnb’s improvements in addressing common pain points for hosts, others, including Robert Mollins of Gordon Haskett Research Advisors, said that the Winter Release could have gone further, for example to provide more comprehensive guidance to hosts on how they can navigate local and ever-changing regulations.