It’s been an interesting couple of weeks for Airbnb.
After a year of lower-than-usual performance due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Airbnb is looking to reignite its foothold in the short-term rental and tourism market by reimagining its platform over the coming months.
But the company has been bogged down with criticism over poor customer and host support, lackadaisical app experiences, climbing prices, and a shaky backend system.
Airbnb shares have fallen over the past three months, down from $212 per share in February to $134 per share as of late May—lower than their initial opening price of $139 per share in December 2020 when they first went public.
In response, Airbnb released official statements and a massive list of 103 new changes and additions coming to the platform over the course of 2021.
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It started with a Tweet
As all media firestorms start in modern times, Airbnb’s public relations episode started with a tweet. A guest highlighted their charges for a recent stay:
According to the image, the guest was charged $114 for a cleaning fee. That’s more than the cost of one night’s stay.
This led to a flurry of similar tweets noting how they were charged outrageous prices for cleaning and other fees that seemed way too expensive compared to the price per night.
This led to Airbnb releasing a response addressing fees and how they’re formulated. They defended the fees, citing that they’re clearly stated during the booking process so that guests know exactly what they’re being charged before they ever click the “book” button.
The company also noted that they offer their hosts the autonomy to set their own cleaning fees, as all locations are different and require varying degrees of maintenance, such as having to hire professional cleaning crews.
To conclude their argument, Airbnb stated that “among active Airbnb listings globally, [45%] do not charge a cleaning fee. For listings that do charge a cleaning fee, the fee on average is less than 10 percent of the total reservation cost.”
However, Airbnb recognized the need to be more purposeful with its price transparency, stating that they would review the issue over the coming months.
Airbnb’s new direction
Yes, there’s been a pandemic—but as it wanes, Airbnb needs to ensure a rebound for what many are assuming will be a booming summer for tourism.
To build strength moving forward, the company announced 103 new additions and changes that will be coming to the platform over the coming months.
Chief among these are the improvements in customer support, especially for hosts, which has been remarkably poor. Even CEO Brian Chesky admitted that support “wasn’t where it was supposed to be” during a presentation this week.
To mend the support issues for Superhosts—Airbnb’s shining credential given to their most esteemed hosts—the platform will be creating a dedicated support team for them specifically.
Further, the app will be upgraded with a more streamlined and flexible experience, allowing users to search based on new criteria as well as more defined filters. Airbnb’s goal is to provide guests with an in-app booking experience that leaves no destination off the table.
This will inevitably help hosts, as their visibility might become more amplified when the updates roll out.
What does Airbnb mean to the short-term rental industry?
Airbnb was founded in 2008 as a disruptor to the entrenched hotel and tourism industry, with cheaper prices and a diverse collection of destinations. Airbnb was poised for success.
But in recent years, despite growth, the firm has faced criticism over rising prices and other issues, making hotels more attractive to some.
The company is an essential pillar of the short-term rental industry, as well as tourism. Scores of real estate investors rely on Airbnb rental income and its powerful platform, which gives more visibility—especially once these new changes come out—to listings that might have otherwise gone unnoticed, such as properties on the outskirts of cities and suburban areas.
“While these types of markets have historically been lucrative investment opportunities, many of them don’t have as much online visibility in terms of where the points of interest are in relation to the accommodations,” said Avery Carl, a real estate investor and realtor with The Short Term Shop.
Carl also believes that Airbnb’s impact on tourism in general is crucial, and says these new changes should acclimate guests to their destination better than before.
“Airbnb’s changes around highlighting properties near points of interest, showing the local experiences and attractions on the property map, and making activity suggestions will be beneficial to both guests who are visiting the area for the first time, and for hosts who own properties near the attractions in these areas.”
As the tourism industry recovers, Airbnb is clearly looking to lead the way. It’ll be interesting to see how competitors like Vrbo and hotels respond.