In Conversation with Juliana Nguyen
What were some of the trends in the hospitality sector you noted in 2017? In terms of the travelling trends, how the consumer travels, what she wants, what are some of the consumer behavioral trends noted by Airbnb?
Travel and hospitality are dynamic industries, seeing an incredible diversity based on consumer preferences. The past year has seen more travelers experimenting to gain unique experiences, as the number of choices available reach an all-time high. A new era of travel and hospitality has emerged, where consumers are more sure of their preferences than ever before.
In this regard, the Airbnb consumer is someone who seeks new, more refreshing, unique ways to travel. They wish to discover new places in the world through people, culture, cuisines and by experiencing local life. They can be young or old, shy or upfront, male or female – anybody who is seeking unique travel experiences is an Airbnb consumer. The fact that almost a million Indians have travelled using Airbnb since 2008 is testimony to the new age Indian traveler’s willingness to experience the world in unique ways, and how Airbnb is enabling this process of discovery. Airbnb gives them the opportunity to discover the world on their own terms. Going beyond logistics, travelers can choose to live like locals do, anywhere in the world. Airbnb is bringing together a global community of people who want to discover more about the world, and travel holds the key to bringing this community closer together.
Some of the key travel trends we noticed in 2017 include:
Push towards experiential travel: Travel has become templatized in the last decade and now travellers have become more aware of their choices. They now want to build their itineraries and immerse themselves in the local culture, cuisine, and experiences. Addressing this need, we launched Airbnb Trips in 2016 with the vision to add value to the travel experience, offering bookable experiences that bring travelers close to local arts, culture, cuisine, and more.
Curating personalized travel experiences: Every other person’s definition of hospitality is different, and yet every traveller is looking to personalize and customize travel. At Airbnb, we recognize that each host on our platform has something unique to offer in their home, their culture, their cuisine, and can transform the way their guests experience their neighborhood or city.
Focus on international travel & long weekends: Technology and the changing landscape of the world have made international travel more accessible, economical and easier to plan. With platforms like Airbnb bringing together hosts and guests in 191+ countries, travelers no longer see planning an international vacation as a daunting task. In 2017, Indian travelers on Airbnb were seen taking trips to popular locations like London, Paris and New York, as well as planning trips to tropical locations like Bali, Thailand etc.
Rise in mobile travel bookings: Travel booking via mobiles has continued to grow every passing year and can soon predominate the way travel booking are made. With Airbnb’s mobile app, travelers no longer see making bookings a tedious task and can easily plan their vacation through our app.
Utilization of long weekends for International travel: Another prominent trend we observed was the thorough utilization of long weekends to plan international as well as domestic trips. Travel features more regularly and prominently in the lives of consumers today, and whether it is a 3-day getaway or a month-long vacation, it is likely to retain its importance as respite from more stressful everyday environments.
Increasing focus on luxury travel: While the millennial traveler looks to optimize their travel plans and plan quick, budget trips, there is a growing audience that is now planning luxury vacations in exotic destinations. With rising disposable incomes, this trend has been on the rise. Some of the top locations preferred by Indian Airbnb travelers included luxury destinations like Paris, London, and New York.
Thirst for intra-regional travel - We have noticed that 80% of the travel that originates in the APAC region (including China) is to other APAC regions.
In your view, what are the top three-four reasons for the growth of Airbnb, particularly in the APAC markets? What makes these markets different from the developed markets of the west?
One of the key contributors to our growth is the fact that at Airbnb we put our community first. Instead of focusing on growing quickly, we are focused on building a product that our hosts and guests love. If they love it, they tell other people about it, and it grows from there.
Another insight is that when it comes to home sharing, what we are doing is more than making something - we are attempting to empowering someone. Sharing economies equip individuals and groups to monetize underutilized assets by offering them as a service to customers in need. It is also a way for customers to find services for a particular requirement without having to invest in one’s own assets. There is an existing set of community resources and assets, and the possibility of creating and leveraging entrepreneurs around the globe. The insight to leverage those resources can lead to scale being achieved a lot faster, and making greater impact on people, around the world.
Additionally, at Airbnb we believe in creating a unique travel experience for everyone. What sets us apart is that we focus on the ‘who’ and ‘why’ of travel, more than ‘what’ or ‘where.’ Travelers are increasingly seeking to break away from standard itineraries, and Airbnb gives them the opportunity to discover the world on their own terms. Going beyond logistics, with Airbnb, travelers can choose to live like locals do, anywhere in the world.
Countries like India, Korea and Japan are unique as compared to their western counterparts when it comes to the richness of culture and heritage. India, in particular is characterized by its cultural diversity and the spirit of hospitality found in the concept of ‘Atithi Devo Bhava’ or ‘The Guest is next to God Himself.’ This spirit is inherent in homes across the country, with hosts who are inclined to best serve their guests, and to introduce them to the nuances of local life. This is in line with Airbnb’s vision to enable people to feel like they can belong anywhere in the world - even if it is just for a night. This is what distinguishes India’s hosting culture, as we continue to form a strong community of hosts who are opening their hearts and homes to the world.
What has been the overriding marketing strategy for the success of Airbnb in the APAC region?
With each new market that Airbnb has entered, we have taken the time to understand the spirit of the locals, who have gone on to become a part of our global community of travelers and hosts.
Over time, we have continued to engage with the market in order to deepen our understanding of the cultural nuances and local dynamics. We have also encouraged the host community to come together and share best practices and hosting experiences with one another. The markets that we’ve had the most success in are those where we took the time to really understand local insights and to create work/campaigns to address these insights. You succeed collectively as a region if individual countries succeed in producing work that is relevant to their market/travellers and addresses their needs.
This approach was inherent in the ‘Live There’ campaign that we launched globally in 2016 and extended to India in April, 2017, which was born from a basic insight about what travelers seek when they embark upon their journeys. Through the campaign, we aimed to inspire travelers to reimagine what travel means to them, highlighting the authentic and magical experiences made possible through Airbnb and its community of over 4 million homes.
Focused on building a deeper connect with the new age Indian traveler, we have worked towards establishing a stronger local resonance amongst our growing Indian community. Taking #LiveThere a step further, we also collaborated with Viacom 18’s entertainment channel MTV India to host the online #LiveThere contest giving the young Indian traveler the chance to have a unique travel experience. Contest winners got the chance to head to their favorite destination accompanied by popular celebrities – DJ Nikhil Chinapa in Thailand; fashion icon VJ Anusha Dandekar in Milan; and Bollywood actress Radhika Apte in London. To showcase how Airbnb gives the world a view into local customs and culture, we also recently launched a Diwali campaign under the ‘Live There’ banner to welcome the world to celebrate the festival of Diwali in India like locals do. The campaign saw the digital launch of a video which showcased the story of an international guest and an Indian host, and how technology brought them together to create the experience of a lifetime.
Airbnb, particularly in markets such as India and Japan, among other developing markets, is revitalizing communities and generating incomes for the otherwise lesser privileged. How do you identify the gap and opportunity?
For countless families, home sharing is an economic lifeline. It enables people, around the world, to turn one of their greatest assets – their homes, into a resource to make ends meet. In a country like India where technology is unlocking new and exciting opportunities, it is encouraging to see that the Indian Government has a positive approach towards enabling locals to be part of the sharing economy.
All over the world and in India in particular, Airbnb is democratizing tourism by bringing its economic benefits to communities that typically haven’t shared in these benefits in the past. With a model where hosts retain 97% of the listing price, and a global average of 42% of guest spending occurring within the neighborhoods where they stay, the economic impact of home sharing can be significant for offbeat, or less frequented travel destinations.
Additionally, we have noticed that home sharing has begun to provide livelihoods in the country’s rural communities where women in particular face otherwise extremely limited options to provide for themselves and their children.
Through strategic partnerships in India with various state governments like Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Airbnb is also closely working with the government & relevant stakeholders to boost tourism and grow the home sharing ecosystem. On the other hand, via partnerships with local bodies like Self-Employed Women’s Association of India (SEWA), Airbnb is encouraging rural women to list their homes on Airbnb. This helps them to bring domestic and international travelers to homes in otherwise undiscovered locations, and to supplement their income by utilizing unused space. The focus of this partnership on women’s economic empowerment was the first of its kind for Airbnb, and one we plan to use as a model in other parts of the world.
In June 2017, we also partnered with the World Bank Group on initiatives including a study on the development impacts of home sharing, and pilot projects in areas we jointly identify as emerging tourist destinations. As a part of this partnership, we also support hospitality skills training for new hosts in the Asia-Pacific region and encourage demand through destination marketing. These joint efforts focus on both emerging destinations in rural areas and marginalized areas within cities that governments are looking to revitalize. Right now, India and Sri Lanka are a part of this pilot and we plan to extend the scope of the partnership to other countries as well.
With these collaborations, we hope to be able to boost tourism for the country, which is sought as one of the most vibrant, and hospitable destinations by travelers, across the globe.
What are the growth plans of the brand, particularly for developing markets and APAC markets?
Over the next few years, we hope to make Airbnb a ‘full travel and experience company’ for people who are seeking to experience new places and their culture in a unique way. Within the APAC, region and in India in particular as we spread our footprint, our goal is to forge positive collaborations and better understand local dynamics when it comes to travel and hospitality and, make people aware of the benefits of home sharing making it extremely relevant for the Indian hosts and guests. The partnerships we have forged with various state governments and associations are a testimony to Airbnb’s role in establishing home sharing as a key contributor to tourism in the country.
How do you plan to keep using the digital media platforms in 2018? How critical is it to the growth of the brand?
Today, the new age traveller places greater importance on travel in their life, using it as a way to break away from everyday routine, and to discover themselves and the world. Home sharing offers this traveller scope for exciting ways to travel to discover and experience new destinations like never before.
Aligned with the needs of our consumers, we have in place a holistic, 360-degree marketing approach to engage with the travel community in this region. This includes a mix of print, television, out-of-home, and a significant focus on digital and social media. Of these media, technology has played a central role in enabling our consumers to better understand the value that Airbnb brings to their lives. Through digital engagement, we have been successful in taking the value of Airbnb closer to our consumers. This extends to social media interaction, as well as leveraging the digital medium to connect users with key influencers who choose Airbnb.
Digital will continue to play a critical role in our marketing plans. We will be creating content specifically for these channels. Travellers use Digital platforms for inspiration, planning and booking their trips and we will continue to product content for each of the stages.