Airbnb is making major updates to its search and booking functions, plus beefing up its trip insurance policies in what the company called “the biggest change to Airbnb in a decade,” it announced on Thursday.
The short-term rental behemoth is making the changes at a time when people are booking longer stays, and the company is looking for ways to capitalize on sustained high demand for short-term rentals.
These changes are being rolled out immediately, and they have implications for hosts looking to maximize their chances of booking guests in their rentals.
Among the big changes:
- Airbnb Categories: Guests can target specific amenities or attractions when finding places to stay.
- Split Stays: Making it easier for guests to book two homes during a single trip.
- AirCover: A sort of insurance policy in case a host cancels a booking or if the home isn’t as advertised, that’s provided free with every booking.
“The way people travel has changed forever. That’s why we’re introducing the biggest change to Airbnb in a decade,” said Brian Chesky, Airbnb’s co-founder and CEO.
The changes continue ongoing efforts by the company to guide guests toward homes at a time when travel has rebounded from pandemic lows, and people are seemingly open to the platform’s suggestions on where to stay.
Here are the biggest changes in store for hosts and their guests.
This appears to be an extension of changes the company made recently to guide guests toward stays they otherwise might not have thought of or knew existed.
Airbnb launched its “I’m Flexible” feature, which provides guests with recommendations on other locations or dates if they’re simply looking to get away with no specific plan in mind.
The change capitalized on the widespread expansion of remote work during the pandemic, and the feature has been used more than 2 billion times since its launch.
“Most of us can only think of a few dozen cities to type into the search box,” the company said in a statement. “But there are Airbnbs in 100,000 towns and cities around the world.”
The creation of a search function that includes 56 categories builds on that effort by letting travelers search for specific styles, locations or proximity to activities.
Airbnb Categories acts as a filter that is then applied to destination searches. Only homes with the guest’s specified categories will appear.
What hosts need to know
Categories operates using machine learning, pulling from written descriptions, photo captions, other data inputs from the host and reviews left by guests.
The Airbnb team will also pick what photo is featured upon search.
“If a listing is in the Amazing Pools Category, the first photo shows a pool,” the company said.
To take advantage of the new feature, hosts should make sure their listings are well-written and include photos of the features that make their homes stand out.
While features like “I’m Flexible” and the new Categories are pitched as benefits for guests, they also help the company and its hosts, strategically, by managing inventory across the world. With travelers open to ideas on where to go, Airbnb is guiding them.
People are staying longer in Airbnb’s. Stays of 28 days or more are the fastest-growing category for the business right now, and nearly half of all nights booked for the past three months were for longer than a week.
Split Stays is the company’s way of capitalizing on the trend. The new feature will let guests split their trips between two homes.
In some ways, the company is nudging travelers to book longer stays.
The company said guests will see 40 percent more listings when searching for longer stays than short ones. Search results will also automatically show Split Stays when guests search within 14 Categories, such as camping, national parks, skiing and surfing.
When booking one at a time, the map on Airbnb will draw a line to visually connect the two homes.
What hosts need to know
The feature could help short-term rental investors with a portfolio of homes that fall within the 14 Categories that will be suggested for longer-term stays.
“For example, when browsing the National Parks Category, Split Stays might suggest a pair of homes near Zion National Park and Grand Canyon,” the company said.
Those with multiple short-term rentals in high-demand areas that also have some of the 56 Categories might see an uptick in demand. Here are the 14 Categories that will suggest a Split Stay:
- Amazing Views
- National parks
Of the three major updates, AirCover is the one that’s most focused on the guest experience.
Think of it like an insurance policy should guests encounter any issues checking in, if the home isn’t what was advertised, if a host cancels a booking within 30 days of check-in or if a guest feels unsafe during their stay.
With any host cancellations, or other issues, Airbnb will find the guests a different home or refund them. Every booking will be covered for free.
“We created a team of specially trained agents for last-minute rebooking assistance,” the company said. “We also significantly expanded our 24-hour safety line to cover 16 languages.”