Airbnb co-founder talks new flexible booking options and the future of travel

The company's latest update aims to address emerging trends amid the pandemic

Earlier this week, Airbnb announced more than 100 upgrades across its entire platform in response to the changing travel trends amid the pandemic.

Airbnb co-founder and chief strategy officer Nate Blecharczyk told MobileSyrup in an interview that the new changes are part of what he describes as the company’s most comprehensive update yet.

“I think this is a reflection of people being able to work and study from anywhere.”

Blecharczyk outlined that the release “is a reflection of the trends that we’re seeing during the pandemic and coming out of the pandemic. The biggest trend is the flexibility around travel. People are more open-minded about when they travel and they are more flexible about where they travel.”

“Many times, they want to discover new destinations. And to address this timely need, we’ve launched new flexible search features,” Blecharczyk stated.

As part of the new release, Airbnb is launching three new ways to search on Airbnb: flexible dates, flexible matching and flexible destinations. With flexible dates, instead of searching with fixed dates, you can search for a weekend getaway, a week-long vacation or even a month-long stay.

Flexible matching offers users a wider selection of listing results when searching for a new place to stay by displaying homes just outside your search parameters. The flexible destinations option helps you discover properties in places you may not have thought to search for.

The future of travel

When asked whether the trend of flexible travel could continue post-pandemic, Blecharczyk outlined that during the start of the year, 200 million searches from users on Airbnb had indicated that their dates are flexible.

“This is overwhelmingly the case right now and will continue to a certain extent. I think that has a lot to do with the future of work. Work from home means work from any home, so that opens up the possibility of going somewhere for three or four days,” he outlined.

Blecharczy notes that another growing trend is long-term stays. He stated that although long-term stays had been growing before the pandemic, they have spiked during the pandemic.

For instance, the percentage of long-term stays (at least 28 nights) on Airbnb almost doubled globally. In Canada, long-term stays accounted for 36 percent of nights booked in Q1 2021.

“I think this is a reflection of people being able to work and study from anywhere. How that evolves is dependent on the future of work,” he stated.

Blecharczyk also stated that he expects business travel to permanently shift post-pandemic, as we’ll likely see relatively fewer one-night or two-night business trips.

“I think that can be done over Zoom very well and more cost-effectively. Instead, you’re going to see business travel that is for a week or two weeks where the focus is on collaboration and working deeply with a team for a longer period of time,” he stated.

Rebuilding a travel platform amid a pandemic

When reworking the travel platform amid the pandemic, Blecharczyk explained that the biggest challenge was not knowing what to expect. He outlined that this forced Airbnb to take dramatic action quickly, including laying off some staff.

Blecharczyk noted that the changes allowed the company to focus on its core business. He says that Airbnb was surprised at how quickly travel resumed.

“We encourage guests to double-check the travel restrictions in their area.”

“People have needed to escape from their homes and have a change of scenery,” he stated. “Last summer, we were frankly surprised at how quickly travel came back for us and we were caught understaffed on the customer support side of things.”

Blecharczyk says that Airbnb has boosted its customer support and doubled its staff to be well-prepared this year as the company heads into the summer.

Travelling during COVID-19 restrictions and lockdowns

It’s clear Canadians are staying in nearby areas amid the pandemic, as data shows that nearby travel has made up 61 percent of nights booked on Airbnb in 2021.

Airbnb has seen a significant increase in the percentage of nights booked in rural areas when comparing the summer of 2019 to 2021. In Canada, the platform has also experienced an increase from 14 percent to 43 percent.

There has been some confusion around booking stays in other cities amid ongoing lockdowns and stay-at-home orders in Canada, as people from cities are travelling to rural areas.

Blecharczyk stated that Airbnb has been working closely with municipalities and governments around the world on sharing local requirements.

“We encourage guests to double-check the travel restrictions in their area. In some cases, we have been able to put those messages explicitly into the product in partnership with the governments,” he outlined. “The rules are fastly evolving. Thankfully, the trend at this point is now one of opening up versus locking down.”