Airbnb and the Quest to Redefine Hospitality

Nearly ten years ago, Airbnb started with a mission to help guests find a place to stay — its origin story is well told. And just like Pinterest, Uber, Google, Facebook, and others of its generation, the company has expanded beyond its core offering to redefine what the modern-day hospitality industry looks like. In recent weeks, it has doubled down on its pursuit of being a trip platform and adding more services to eliminate any stress you might have around travel, following through on its ideal of “belonging” anywhere.

At its Airbnb Open conference for hosts, CEO Brian Chesky recounted the “hero’s journey” and used it to illustrate the next phase of his company’s growth. It was one thing to start by enabling people to rent out a room or entire homes and make money off of it, but that would be similar to hotels, and Airbnb already has more rooms than Marriott, Hilton, InterContinental, Wyndham, and Hyatt hotels combined.

To further distinguish itself from traditional hoteliers and even industry competitors HomeAway, VRBO, Couchsurfing, and others, Airbnb started to expand by targeting business travelers, helping hosts improve the quality of their homes, and making sure guests are aware of the neighborhood and a great trip instead of being shacked up in their home and visiting just the tourist areas of a city. It also sought to bring that experience to the whole travel stack, owning not only accommodations but also eventually flights and services.

The Wish for a Public Airbnb API

The company has formed partnerships with numerous companies to support its mission, including audio walking tour provider Detour, restaurant reservation service Resy, smart lock maker August, and others. It intends to provide you with one app to assist you with your travel needs.

Do you need to find attractions near you? Use Airbnb. Want to get into your home? Use Airbnb. Hungry and need a reservation at a restaurant your Foursquare friends recommend? Use Airbnb.

Developers may have eagerly awaited the opportunity to integrate with this trip platform, but the reality was that the platform limited API access to select partners.

“We’ve always wanted to start with the…travel experience [users] are having out there. We need to highly curate what services and third parties we work with,” Mike Curtis, Airbnb’s vice president of engineering, once told me. At the time, he suggested that a public API was in the works but did not provide a specific timeline. However, a year later, it seems the company is inching closer to fulfilling its promise, albeit still at a glacial pace.

This weekend, Matteo Gamba from All About Airbnb reported that an official API appeared to be available, and developers could request access.

A spokesperson told TechCrunch in a statement:

“Airbnb has always maintained affiliate relationships with partners around the world. In 2015 we ended some inactive partners, but have maintained others. The new landing page serves as [a] simple, single place for potential partners to find the information they need to become an Airbnb affiliate and is available in all countries that Airbnb operates.”

Airbnb API Partner Website
Airbnb API Partner Website

According to the site’s Frequently Asked Questions, those granted access to Airbnb’s API will be able to Oauth into new and existing accounts. It seems that the API benefits will be limited to hosts who are looking to develop their own apps. Those apps can send push updates to content, rates, and availability, according to Airbnb, and when a guest makes a reservation, hosts will receive messages and booking details and it’ll work with their preferred workflow.

Here are the three things hosts can do with the API:

  • Connect and import listings: Connect multiple listings in Airbnb and sync the data with the platform.
  • Manage pricing and availability: Organize booking details and reservation rules from your preferred app instead of just through Airbnb. Also, have one calendar to manage multiple listings.
  • Message guests: Use your current email process and automated messages to respond to guest inquiries.

The wish for a fully public API has yet to be realized. However, it appears that Airbnb is following suit with what other companies like Square have done. They have adjusted their capabilities to suit different behaviors developers have.

When starting out, it’s understandable to have partners buy into the way you want things done. But now that there’s traction, companies are pushed to relax on restrictions and flip their thinking. They need to accommodate the needs of their partners lest they risk abandonment.

The Modern-Day Travelocity

For years, the big travel behemoths have been Travelocity, Expedia, and Orbitz. These companies were the ones that consumers went to to get discounts on airfare, hotel, and car rentals and the ones that manufactured the reservation systems. But today with the smartphone generation and the on-demand economy, are these industry giants being replaced by Airbnb? The company seems to be not only the service we want but need.

Although it’s easy to connect travelers with people looking to rent out their homes, there’s more to this story. It’s one thing for hoteliers to spruce up their buildings, but for Airbnb, it’s a little bit more difficult to do since it doesn’t own inventory. Instead, it’s launching programs designed to encourage and incentivize hosts to do more to provide a premium experience. Perhaps to show that no matter whether you’re staying in someone’s tree house, apartment, home, or RV, you’re going to have a trip that deserves five stars.

Most recently, Airbnb launched Airbnb Select, a home improvement program that encourages hosts to spend money improving their properties. As The Information notes, sprucing up properties could improve perception by those wary of home-sharing services and prefer to stay at hotels. But if you see a place with premium features and extraordinary quality, you might be more inclined to think you’re going to stay in luxury. And with improved quality, hosts can feel comfortable charging more per night, proving to guests that the rate is worth the stay.

This all seems good but can Airbnb continue to get all the hosts bought into its version of modern hospitality? While at last year’s Airbnb Open, it was astonishing to see how fanatical hosts became when the company’s co-founders appeared on stage, following every word that Chesky uttered. But not everyone is willing to jump on board the bandwagon quite yet, so how does Airbnb help support those people while giving others the resources to increase their business?

Giving Guests What They Want

In posh hotels on the Las Vegas Strip, New York City, or any luxury resort, if you’re looking for something and are a “whale”, a concierge or personal assistant will go out of his or her way to get you what you want. Airbnb wants all its guests to think of themselves as high rollers, thinking about all the amenities, services, and other details they may need during their trip.

If you’re a business traveler and need to find a home that is tailored towards professionals, there’s an option for that. Do you also need a place to work for a few hours? Airbnb will help book your space at a nearby WeWork location. If you want something more luxurious, there’s a way to find it too.

And it also includes getting to know the neighborhood you’re staying in. Airbnb’s magical guides are designed to enable guests to better explore and engage in something either local or off the beaten path, beyond the standard tourist affair.

Its brand of hospitality has motivated hoteliers to step up their game, including adding modern flairs to rooms such as Amazon Echo devices, and keyless entry doors, increasing available room inventory drastically to compete, and more. All of this is to appeal to the modern traveler armed with a smartphone and seeking convenience and simplicity in their experience.

Selling You On An Idea

Seeing that it owns no physical inventory, when Airbnb does go public in the next couple of years, possibly even as soon as next year, what will potential shareholders be buying? They may be buying not into assets, but the idea of a new form of hospitality, an updated definition, if you will. They’re embracing a philosophy that perhaps resonates with the hosts of the more than 3 million listings and also the 200 million guests.

But while Airbnb is giving freedom and convenience to people, it still struggles with the same regulatory battles that Uber and Lyft do when it comes to ride-hailing. Perhaps this is why Airbnb is opting to build entire apartment complexes to not run afoul of these laws. It’s still a risky endeavor on Airbnb’s part, but while there are certainly bad actors on the platform, the company’s idea to revamp the way we view travel and hospitality isn’t necessarily wrong.

The Airbnb that we knew ten years ago has matured and grown, becoming a fully blossomed idea, ready to incorporate other technologies and partners to help guests and hosts better experience the world.

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