BHN caught up wth Cameron Houser, Airbnb’s hotels program manager. Houser has led Airbnb’s recent push into the hotel market, which has seen the company begin to make a formal effort to get professional hospitality providers to list on the site.
• What are your responsibilities as Airbnb’s hotels program manager?
“First and foremost my job is helping Airbnb get to know hotels and B&Bs better and hotels and B&Bs get to know Airbnb better. From there, I can help inform product changes, work with technology and association partners, and put together our operational processes for working with hotels.”
“While there has been some organic growth in this category on Airbnb – a 520 per cent increase in boutique hotels listing on Airbnb in the past year – a few months ago we began rolling out a dedicated product to support these hosts and guests. By expanding in this area, we’re giving greater choice, more transparency and helping hosts stand out and guests better find what they’re looking for. ”
• Why did Airbnb start to target boutique hotel and B&B owners to advertise on its platform?
“Hotels and B&Bs have always listed on Airbnb. We added a boutique hotel category and watched it grow nearly 20 per cent every month completely organically, at which point we realised that we needed to make some improvements to be sure that these hosts felt like they belonged.”
“Additionally, many millions of guests visited Airbnb last year and did not book with us. For whatever reason, they were not able to find what they were looking for, though we assumed they didn’t just cancel their holidays. By making our platform easier to to use for hotels and B&Bs, we are truly providing accommodations for everyone.”
• What do you think the effect of the introduction of Airbnb Plus will be on the platform overall?
“Airbnb Plus was created after observing some of Airbnb’s best hosts and homes. There are large numbers of hosts who go above and beyond. This program was created to celebrate them, and highlight all the great work they have done. It also caters for those guests looking for that added assurance over the quality of where they stay. Plus expands our appeal to mid-upscale travelers who want that added reassurance over the quality of where they stay. As with adding hotel and B&B inventory, adding a new level of our homes will help more people find the right accomodations for every trip every time they visit Airbnb.”
• This month Airbnb called on boutique hotel and bed-and-breakfast owners to advertise rooms on your platform. What are the advantages of advertising with Airbnb rather than big online travel agencies like Booking and Expedia?
“The travel industry is massive, and has been growing every year since Airbnb was formed. There are many different types of traveler looking for many different types of experience and we think there’s room and demand for all types of hospitality. By opening our platform to hotels and B&Bs, we believe we can help them avoid the crippling fees of OTAs and reach a new audience of traveler that’s booking through Airbnb.”
“It’s also important to note we’re a community-driven platform. Airbnb wants to see our hotel and B&B partners succeed. Though we are just starting our program, we are very interested in having as much feedback to build the product that hotels most want to see.Many potential guests on Airbnb did not find what they were looking for last year. While this might be due to a number of factors, our research shows that many people are looking for something a bit more hotel-like, but still with an intimate, community feel and hosted experience. We believe the segment of hotels and B&Bs are we most excited about will deliver exactly what these travelers are hoping to find.”
• Airbnb has stated that it wants to be discerning about which hotels are able to advertise on its platform. What qualities make a boutique hotel right for Airbnb?
“We are looking for smaller, independent properties, with a deep connection to their communities and a strong presence that makes each guests stay special. Of course, we also want there to be unique and memorable elements of the property. We are excited about properties that think about hosting and hospitality first, and truly make guests feel special, welcome and hosted.”
• Given that Airbnb is unofficially acting like a hotel soft brand collection, there has been some speculation that Airbnb could launch its own hotel brand. Is this a likely step for Airbnb?
“ At this time, we are very focused on making sure we are putting the right product and features together so we can better champion the hotels and B&Bs excited to work with us. We are honoured to have the opportunity to serve these amazing properties and their guests, and are going to be heads down on that for the foreseeable future.”
How do you see Airbnb evolving over the next three to five years?
“Right now, we are working really hard to take as much feedback as possible to make Airbnb the very best travel platform we can – including feedback from hotels and B&Bs. As I look to the future, my focus will be on continuing to make sure we are delivering on our promise to have something for everyone, and that will mean not only helping guests find what they want but helping hosts, like hotels and B&Bs, have a great experience hosting with us.”
“Ten years ago we created a new phenomenon in travel, offering a local, unique and authentic way to travel as an alternative to commoditised mass tourism. Looking forward to the next 10 years, we want everyone to be able to experience this way of traveling – and we’re setting ourselves on a path to more than 1 billion guests a year on Airbnb in 10 years time.”
Airbnb’s James McClure will be speaking at the 2018 Boutique and Lifestyle Hotel Summit in London.