Lessons learned from Airbnb about tourism recovery post-pandemic

By Marian Makkar, Amanda Spry, Jessica Vredenburg | 20 December 2021
Credit: Kyle Glenn at Unsplash

By Marian Makkar, RMIT University, Amanda Spry, RMIT University, Jessica Vredenburg, Auckland University of Technology

In Australia, state and international borders are reopening and travel is back on the table, just in time for the holidays. For the tourism industry, this signals the start of the road to economic recovery out of the latest COVID-19 lockdowns.   

However, this presents new challenges to accommodation providers. Travellers’ expectations have changed, and social interactions look different – even since this time last year. Additionally, accommodation providers must be vigilant to changes in COVID-19 regulations and rules and adapt their offerings to ensure compliance and safety.

These challenges are even greater for ‘peer to peer’ accommodation businesses, such as individuals or families who rent their own homes through sharing platforms like Airbnb. Airbnb is no stranger to major disruption. Since its inception in 2008, Airbnb transformed how and where people stay when travelling. They have seen business boom as now, more than ever, people are taking full advantage of not being anchored to major cities and are trying out different ways of living.

Airbnb’s original ethos promised travellers they can ‘Belong Anywhere’ and enjoy ‘Living like a Local’.  Delivering on this ethos meant guests making social connections with hosts and locals as well as providing a sense of homeliness and uniqueness not commonly found in the average hotel.

How does this translate to the post-pandemic travel experience? What can local, small accommodation providers learn from industry powerhouses like Airbnb to improve their guests’ comfort and experience and their own business performance this holiday season?

Make your home a destination for ‘staycations’ and ‘workcations’

Earlier in the pandemic, Australians were incentivised to travel close to home through the idea of the ‘staycation’. A newer emerging phenomenon is the ‘workcation’ – capitalising on the flexibility of remote working that looks set to stay post-pandemic.

Airbnb successfully promoted their homes for business travellers well before the pandemic, showcasing facilities like WIFI and work-friendly desk spaces. Being a digital nomad now has wider appeal with more people dialling in from a remote office. This blurs the lines between life, travel, and work and holidays are no longer a seasonal occasion. Local accommodation providers can adopt Airbnb’s strategy, promoting homes as workcation destinations. 

Social connection in a time of social distancing

The desire for social connection is high but so is the need to observe social distancing. How can this conundrum be managed by local accommodation providers?

Airbnb was ahead of the game when it came to creating authentic social connectivity where ‘strangers become friends’ even without in-person conversations. Even their most recent advertising campaign ends with the call: ‘Strangers aren’t that strange. Try hosting’. Research about Airbnb’sdigital functionalities shows hosts are encouraged to express their care for guests by staying in touch with them via the platform’s messaging app. Messages can be augmented with local, personalised recommendations. Money can change the relationship dynamic from social to transactional, so the platform also works as a buffer for awkward conversations about cancellations and costs.

Outside the app and inside the property, Airbnb hosts are encouraged to leave a welcome basket along with a manual. Wording is key - ‘manuals’ signal a desire to help guests whereas ‘rules’ can easily be perceived as strict and domineering. Local accommodation providers can connect with their guests through similar no-touch gestures – consider a care package, a guide for guests to make the most out the property and surrounding area, and an agreed communication channel that works well for all parties.

Uniqueness is key – except when it comes to cleaning and hygiene

People have been cooped up at home for months and one of the perks of staying in someone’s home instead of a hotel is the uniqueness. Hosts with special features in their accommodation – highlight it! But alongside a sense of adventure and uniqueness, safety is essential.

In the accommodation industry, deep cleaning and strict hygiene have become a norm. But standardisation can be an issue for peer to peer and sharing platform businesses. In this case, the accommodation provider is a regular homeowner who must take responsibility for upping cleaning standards. Guests need to be able to trust that this has been done.

Even before the pandemic, Airbnb streamlined different hygiene standards across hosts and succeeded in making it a point of focus of their platform service. Now, Airbnb hosts abide by a cleaning handbook and are rewarded with a commendation on their online listing.

What’s important as hosts reopen their homes to guests these holidays may be a protocol for superior cleaning, clear cues that the space has been cleaned, and a badge of recognition to reward hosts and reassure guests.   

Don’t throw away the tech – it’s more accessible and inclusive

There are members of our community for whom virtual living becoming the ‘new normal’ has been life changing in terms of inclusion and visibility in society. Let’s not throw away the gains made in this respect.

Airbnb Experiences offers hybrid tourism, including remote cooking classes and wine tastings, showing it is possible for people to explore and learn from their homes. Rather than removing online elements or experiences of your accommodation that were introduced earlier in the pandemic, consider how these can be built upon to deliver accessible and inclusive hybrid offerings.

As people embark on travel – hopefully unthwarted! - hosts will be walking the tightrope between adventure and socialising, safety and cleanliness for their guests.

Have something to say on this? Share your views in the comments section below. Or if you have a news story or tip-off, drop us a line at adnews@yaffa.com.au

Sign up to the AdNews newsletter, like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter for breaking stories and campaigns throughout the day.

comments powered by Disqus