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Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky: 'We’ve seen a paradigm shift in how people search for travel'

Melody Hahm
·West Coast Correspondent
·3 min read
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As the world begins to normalize after a pandemic-stricken year, Airbnb (ABNB) is trying to seize the opportunity to convince users to take a spontaneous trip without a particular destination in mind.

"We've seen a paradigm shift in how people are searching for travel on Airbnb. It used to be that people knew where they were going. That's why there's a search box [that asks] where are you going? Now 40% of our guests who come on Airbnb either don't have a location in mind or don't have a date in mind," Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky told Yahoo Finance, a day after Airbnb released its first financial results as a public company.

On Tuesday, Airbnb launched "flexible search," an open-ended way to look for homes or apartments to stay in, showing there's pent-up interest to get away — without much of an emphasis on location. Users are booking in shorter windows than ever before, many finding a destination within 30 days of the trip, according to Airbnb.

"The reality is, they are in a house. They are saying, 'I feel stuck. I'll go anywhere within a couple hundred mile radius. I want to go in next couple of months.' We're allowing more flexibility," Chesky said.

Airbnb launched flexible option offering on February 23, 2021 as more users requested open-ended stays.
Airbnb launched flexible option offering on February 23, 2021 as more users requested open-ended stays.

This open-ended search function is ubiquitous across other travel websites, including Booking.com (BKNG), Expedia (EXPE), Momondo and Skyscanner. While it's not a helpful tool for, say, business travelers, it's a good one for leisure travelers — especially ones with flexible schedules who can work remotely, as many are doing in the pandemic.

"Fewer people are traveling for business. Fewer people have very set destinations and it means they are open minded. We can point travelers and demand to where we have supply," Chesky said. "It really helps balance supply and demand. Also I think levels playing field. I think that can benefit Airbnb."

Airbnb reported better than expected revenue during its first quarter as a public company, although gross bookings were down 31% year-over-year. With 4 million hosts on the platform, Chesky said the most important area of growth is to recruit more people to open up their homes.

"Many people like to start hosting at the beginning of a life change. As we see more flexibility, there’s more empty homes people are leaving behind. In 2019, 23% of our hosts were guests first. There are big opportunities to convert guests to become hosts," he said during the investor call Thursday afternoon.

Currently, Airbnb calls its top tier, experienced hosts "superhosts." Prior to the pandemic, the company was iterating on a superuser model akin to a frequent flier program. During the interview with Yahoo Finance, Chesky alluded to a future product that would incentivize users to keep booking on the platform.

Melody Hahm is Yahoo Finance’s West Coast correspondent, covering entrepreneurship, technology and culture. Follow her on Twitter @melodyhahm and on LinkedIn.

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