Heavenly living with Airbnb Plus
BY NADINE PELZER
(Published in The Produktkulturmagazin issue 2 2018)
Unique homes and extraordinary hosts are just two of the things that people around the world appreciate about Airbnb. In the space of just ten years, the platform has grown from its humble beginnings to one of the largest and most influential players in the travel industry while enjoying levels of success that most startups can only dream of. Alexander Schwarz, General Manager DACH for Airbnb, spoke with us about the community's distinctiveness, the challenges in Germany and the new strategy.
Mr Schwarz, what is the best aspect about working at Airbnb for you?
For me, the best thing is the variety of Airbnb which ensues from the fact that as a host, every individual has the opportunity to come into contact with millions of travellers from all over the world. Be it the multitude of homes that are often furnished with an affectionate and strong personal touch, or the diverse discoveries that enable everyone to share their passions, interests and skills with people from all across the globe. Or the many personal encounters between people who often live hundreds of kilometres apart and who might never have met without Airbnb - these are all good reasons for coming to work with a sense of joy every day.
You also travel with Airbnb for pleasure. Which personal experiences will you still enjoy talking about ten years from now?
I almost don’t want to decide on just one. It was probably my first experience with Airbnb, when my son told our host that he would like to live here after just a few minutes. Denmark was also unforgettable – the wind thoroughly blew us around by the sea along with our dog, and we bought back many beautiful memories along with seashells. Or perhaps it was the business trip which me and my colleagues were able to spend at an elaborately renovated country chateau near Paris, owned by a lovely host couple who had even met through Airbnb.
What are the most impressive and unusual homes currently offered by Airbnb?
Airbnb provides the right accommodation for every type and for every budget: from student rooms through to apartments and houses and extraordinary homes such as house boats, tree houses and even luxury villas – the extensive range of homes is available worldwide at a wide range of prices. The five million homes on Airbnb include thousands of unusual overnight lodgings: more than 80,000 villas, 700 igloos, 3,000 castles, 9,000 boats, 1,400 tree houses, 1,000 islands and over 50 lighthouses. The most popular and unusual accommodations include the treehouse in Atlanta, USA, the Seashell House in Mexico and the unique treehouse in Florence, Italy.
How would you describe the Airbnb community? What sets it apart?
The community is the heart of Airbnb. We couldn’t even exist without the excellent hosts. Our community consists of hosts who enjoy getting to know their guests, showing them their neighbourhood and therefore ensuring special experiences, which is why we support our community wherever we can. The Airbnb Open is our most important host festival, for example, where hosts and guests alike can talk to one another and discuss their feedback and ideas with us directly.
How do you ensure that both the hosts and guests are happy?
Cooperating with our community is a crucial part of my range of responsibilities because it is the heart of Airbnb. We therefore stay in close contact with our hosts and organise regular host meetups, among other things. When it comes to bookings on our platform, it’s important that the host and guest can get a good impression of one another in advance, which is why we introduced a five-star rating system. After staying at the accommodation, both the guest and the host receive a notification saying that they can now rate each other. Guests can give their host up to five stars for the accuracy of the accommodation’s details, its cleanliness, location, value and for communication. In addition, the guest and host have the opportunity to leave a written review. These reviews are only published to their profiles once both parties have submitted them following the checkout, after which the reviews become visible to both parties, as well as to future guests and hosts. As well as public reviews, guests and hosts can also send private feedback in order to send personal messages to one another. This also contributes to the satisfaction of both parties.
Airbnb is active in over 190 countries. What significance does the DACH region have to the startup?
The DACH market is an important market for Airbnb too. After all, almost half of all homes are located in Europe, and more than half of all trips take place in Europe. But German travellers are also very important to us on a global scale. Following China, the US and Japan, Germany is the nation with the keenest travellers in world.
What challenges do you face in Germany?
The Sharing Economy has grown significantly in the US, not least against the backdrop of a different culture and the associated openness towards technological developments and innovations. Meanwhile, people in Europe are interested in the Sharing Economy and the opportunities of this new dynamic, but they are still a bit cautious of new developments. Nevertheless, our growth rates in Germany clearly demonstrate that an increasing number of Germans are offering their homes on Airbnb and are also using Airbnb to travel. Home sharing means sharing your own home, and Airbnb Experiences allow every host to take part in global tourism and to welcome guests from all across the globe. At the same time, Airbnb is a fantastic opportunity for travellers to come into contact with inhabitants of new destinations and to therefore live like a local. Our core challenge in Germany is to publicise this style of travelling, hosting and encountering people and to help hosts, guests and those who want to become hosts and guests overcome their fear of new things.
It’s not just people who can benefit from Airbnb, but also cities. How does that work?
Our platform is growing across the globe, as it reflects the way in which people in the 21st century want to live, work and travel. The global interest in Airbnb is therefore growing correspondingly. With over 300 million guest arrivals worldwide we have long since arrived in the social mainstream. Of course, there are concerns in some regions, especially when people don’t know what exactly Airbnb is and how the platform works. Personal exchanges on-site are therefore very important for us everywhere. We are in constant dialogue with many cities and regions and have already entered numerous partnerships worldwide. For example, Airbnb has automated the collection and transfer of local and overnight stay taxes to the responsible municipalities in over 370 cities. We have observed that an increasing number of cities have recognised the opportunities of digitalisation and are actively using this for their city’s concept through smart regulations.
Your new strategy was introduced at the start of this year. What are the biggest changes?
In view of the next ten years and the continued success of the Airbnb community, we introduced a detailed strategy for the “Homes” business division at the start of the year. The strategy is set to guarantee local, personal and authentic trips for every type of guest. The most important new features include four new types of accommodation: holiday home, unique space, bed and breakfast and boutique hotel, in addition to the existing types of accommodation: entire home, private room and shared room. Another addition will also be two new types of accommodation classifications with “Airbnb Plus” and “Beyond by Airbnb” as well as accommodation for any occasion with Airbnb Collections. There will also be investments that benefit the community, including a revised Superhost programme and a new programme for guests that will be introduced in the course of the year.
“Beyond by Airbnb” has been available since this spring. Please explain what this entails and what intentions led to this idea.
“Airbnb Plus” has been available since the spring of this year and is a new type of classification for accommodations that are specially checked for quality and comfort. Airbnb Plus is therefore acknowledging hosts that stand out through exceptional hospitality. With approximately 2,000 homes in 13 cities to date, Airbnb Plus addresses guests who are looking for extraordinary homes, hosts and reliability. Airbnb Plus homes are characterised by a comprehensive checklist of over 100 points that examines and verifies accommodation by cleanliness, comfort and design. Our hosts therefore benefit from improved visibility on Airbnb, their own design consultation, professional photography service and access to premium customer service.
The aim is to attract more business travellers in particular this year. How are you approaching this objective?
Airbnb for business travel is being met with excellent reception. Ten per cent of all trips on Airbnb are now business trips. So far, more than 250,000 companies from 230 countries and regions have used Airbnb for business trips.
Alexander Schwarz has been General Manager for Germany, Austria and Switzerland at Airbnb since July 2015. Working from Berlin he is responsible for the strategic growth of the online community in one of Airbnb’s most important regions in the world. Schwarz previously worked in various management positions for PayPal Germany.
Picture credit © 2018 Airbnb Inc