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Airbnb CEO Talks Travel Trends at Industry Event

Rene Cizio

Airbnb co-founder and CEO Brian Chesky spoke with Skift founder and CEO Rafat Ali at the Skift Global Forum in New York City on September 21. Skift is a news source for business travel. During the event, Chesky shared his perspective on the future of travel. He spoke on several topics related to Airbnb’s business and his insights on travel. Here are three travel trends he talked about in the interview.

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Rene Cizio

1 THE NEED FOR HUMAN CONNECTION

In an era of remote work, Chesky says travel will be the reason people need to leave their houses in the future.

In the interview, Chesky said that he believes that travel analysts are underestimating the comeback the industry is about to have as we enter a “golden age of travel.” As people become more connected online and remote work expands, fewer reasons to leave our homes will exist.

“You have hundreds of millions of people that are glued to screens all day,” Chesky said. “They want to leave their house. Travel’s going to be the way to do that.”

He envisions a future where living and traveling combine as the source of most human connection. Whereas today, when travel is about seeing major landmarks, in the future, it will be about seeing and engaging with people as we become more dispersed around the world.

Airbnb data implies the shift is already happening. Chesky said that 80 percent of Airbnb business used to be urban or cross border, but since the pandemic, more regional travel has become the norm, and the length of stays has increased too with the enablement of remote work.

A new trend stemming from this behavior is the increase in travel to lesser-known places that haven’t been on most people’s radar. Places like the Alabama Gulf Coast and the New York Catskills are getting more attention than traditionally popular tourist sites like Barcelona or Madrid.

Not only are people going to different places, but they’re staying a lot longer.

“Half our business is still longer than a week or approximately by nights. And a fifth of our business remains longer than a month,” Chesky said.

2 THE DECLINE OF URBAN CENTERS

Chesky cited a Gartner Research Group study that found of 187 companies surveyed, only five percent planned a full-time, five-day return to the office. The insight indicates that as people leave those city centers and work from anywhere, our population becomes more scattered, furthering the need for travel to see people.  

This is in keeping with recent census data analysis from the Brookings Institution that shows of the 88 U.S. cities with populations exceeding 250,000, 77 showed either slower growth, more significant declines, or a shift from growth to decline over the previous year.

“Generally speaking, cities will never be as important as they were before the pandemic, Chesky said. “And now I believe the place to be is the internet.”

As these urban centers are de-populated, it opens the possibility of where we live, work, and play, shifting how we think about and plan travel.

3 THE INSPIRATION IMPACT

Airbnb is already planning for the cultural shifts above and is investing in experiences and inspiration.

The company has been offering experiences for some time whereby you can book an excursion or class with a host in the city you visit. Experiences range from paddle boarding to cooking classes, neighborhood tours, group outings for a wrestling match, and more.

Chesky said that with traditional travel websites, it’s assumed you already know where you want to go when you log on, but some inspiration is needed.  

“I think that’s a problem for all these uses,” Chesky said. “[Airbnb is] in 100,000 cities. Do you think people can think to type 100,000 places in a search box? No.”

But Chesky says that people are more open and flexible about travel today. While traditional travel sites organize by location, Airbnb now categorizes by type of space, such as a tree house, igloo, or castle.

He said that people sometimes need a compelling reason to travel, and changing the way we search for travel can give us the reasons we’re looking for, and that’s why they’re focusing on being an “inspiration business.”

“What if one day, most people like Netflix aren’t typing something into a search box; they’re browsing? So, it’s more browsing than searching.”

MY TAKE ON THESE TRAVEL TRENDS

As a frequent worldwide traveler and remote worker, I believe these trends will expand to the broader population. Because I don’t have to live in an urban center to work, I have more freedom of movement. This has enabled me to live nomadically for the last 1.5 years. As a nomad who is always traveling, I now book stays to visit people and keep my human connections. Now, having been to so many places, I look for inspiration about where I should go next. Having a travel site spark the idea of staying in an igloo might be just the incentive I need to book a trip.

Further, I think people are looking for unique and less congested places than traditionally popular sites. Still, we’re also looking to engage in culture, community and the environment in a more thoughtful and immersive way. I suspect travel sites that focus on helping us combine these things will win business and loyalty.

What travel trends do you believe will change how we find and book locations?

See the full interview at Skift.

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