Airbnb is revamping its website in an effort to entice tourists to locations where it has more places to stay, as it seeks to ensure pent-up demand during this year’s peak season is not held back by supply issues.
Where searches on Airbnb were primarily narrowed by location and then date, the redesign announced on Wednesday will introduce 56 different categories. Tabs will filter approximately 4mn listings by functions — such as “surfing”, “skiing” and “camping” — as well as characteristics such as “houseboats”, “farms” and “castles”.
In addition to hosts inputting information, computer vision technology is used to auto-populate listings with certain features that are visible in images, such as “grand piano”.
The company said the upgrade represented the “biggest change to Airbnb in a decade”.
“For 25 years, the way you search for travel online has been the same,” chief executive Brian Chesky told reporters in New York this week. “There’s a big search box and [it asks] you a question: ‘where are you going?’
“We could show you places that you would never have thought to search for.”
Since going public in December 2020, supply of available and desirable locations has been singled out as the biggest potential impediment to Airbnb’s hopes of a huge surge in tourism thanks to pent-up demand as the coronavirus pandemic recedes.
According to company filings, active listings on the platform have increased by around 7 per cent since the company’s S-1 filing ahead of the flotation. Just nine of the top 20 cities for Airbnb in Europe have more available listings now than in 2019, according to independent rental data analyst AirDNA.
Supply in non-urban areas has been stronger, benefiting initially from the desire for social distancing, and then by changing attitudes towards remote work. In this year’s first quarter, listings in non-urban areas increased 15 per cent year over year globally, and 21 per cent in North America.
The new features will also point people to less well-known cities, said Chesky: “We’re in 10,000 cities and most people can’t think of that many cities.”
“And I think there’s a lot of reasons why travel is so concentrated. I think it’s because people go on Netflix and see Emily in Paris . . . everyone goes to Paris, and most people can’t name tiny little towns in France.”
Chesky said the redesign would build on its “I’m flexible” feature, introduced in May 2021, where customers could see a broader range of options if they had no firm dates in mind. Airbnb said more than 2bn searches had been made using the feature.
The upgrade will add location customisation, such as specifying a desire to stay in a US national park, without any preference for which one. It is also playing up its offerings in unusual spots like the Arctic Circle, where it has 6,500 locations listed.
Much of the company’s revenue growth over the pandemic period has been in people seeking to book longer stays to work remotely. Long-term stays lasting 28 days or more made up 21 per cent of all gross bookings on Airbnb in the first quarter, compared to 13 per cent in the same period in 2019.
The redesign adds further options to this, including “Split Stay”, where Airbnb’s algorithm will suggest two locations that could be booked in tandem if no one single host can accommodate the full length of a stay.
“This doubles the amount of possibilities you have for a search when you’re staying for longer than a week,” Chesky said.
Airbnb’s stock has slipped 33 per cent since the start of the year amid a broader sell-off in tech stocks. However, the company recently told investors it was on course to post a bumper peak season, with 30 per cent more nights booked for this summer — as tallied at the end of April — than at the same time in 2019.
It projected revenues would increase in the current quarter by more than 50 per cent, year on year, though it continues to see depressed bookings in Asia Pacific.