Airbnb’s Next Big Change: Search

Skift grip

Airbnb is really good at accelerating its incremental product changes, it better be as revolutionary as expected. Either way, better search, better for the user in a submerged world.

Rafat Ali

Airbnb reported a big quarter of earnings on Tuesday and as part of that, also hinted at a big change coming to its product next week: a complete overhaul of how people search on its service.

From his letter/statement to shareholders that he posted with the earnings, it also included an invitation to a launch event on May 11 where co-founder and CEO Brian Chesky will unveil a list of product updates and changes. – as it now regularly does twice -on an annual basis- in a live webcast.

From the letter:

“Online travel search has worked the same way for 25 years: you enter a location and dates into a search box. But the world has changed. Millions of people are more flexible about where and when they can travel. With accommodations in over 100,000 cities and towns, Airbnb opens up a world of possibilities.

To help customers discover these possibilities, We’re introducing the biggest change to Airbnb in a decade. With a whole new way to search, customers will be able to discover millions of unique homes they never thought they’d search for. And when they book, guests will have the certainty of knowing that Airbnb has their back every step of the way. To learn more, join us at airbnb.com/2022-summer on May 11 at 9 a.m. EDT.

I wrote about the “tyranny of the search field” in 2015, when we published “Skift’s Manifesto On The Future of Travel in 2020”, where I wrote this rather optimistically: “Messaging apps are a place to connect. The single booking search box is not a place to connect. Messaging is your way out of the tyranny of the online travel search box, used since 1995.”

That’s unlikely to happen with this Airbnb news, this merging of messaging and search, BUT a few less esoteric possibilities on Airbnb’s new search overhaul: it is likely to manifest itself in a major overhaul of its homepage on the site and its mobile app, with more editorial or algorithmically curated listings, possibly more destination-related editorial, more flexibility and perhaps be more free form. Given that Airbnb has been talking about the merged world of Iive, work, and travel for the past two years, it’s possible this is an evolution of their thinking as part of this new design launch.

That part above about “Airbnb has your back every step of the way” is a curious way of putting it, maybe a new fintech product along the lines of what Hopper was launch, including its cancellation policy for any reason?

This comes after the successful launch of Airbnb’s flexible search last year. In May 2021, Airbnb introduced “I am flexible”, a new way to search on Airbnb when customers are flexible about where and when they travel, and in November last year it is expanded with “I’m (even more) flexible”. , adding a date range of up to 12 months with a total of almost 30 categories of different types of stays. It now claims to have been used over 2 billion times since its launch and said it has helped spread customer demand more widely. Customers who use this feature are more likely to book at less popular locations, he said.

The good news for us: a day after this launch, Airbnb’s global head of accommodation, Catherine Powell, speaks during our Future of Hosting Forum On May 12, I will interview him on stage and dig deeper into what they announced the day before.