COVID travel: CDC says fully vaccinated people can travel at low risk
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said people who are fully vaccinated for COVID-19 can safely travel but still recommend staying home.
Staff video, USA TODAY
The way people travel is changing, and Airbnb is following suit.
The short-term rental platform is launching an expansive upgrade as Americans pivot toward longer, more unique stays. The new features in part allow for more flexible trip planning during what Airbnb expects to be a busy travel season and could help travelers find more stays within their budget.
“My prediction is that travel is going to come back roaring like we’ve never seen it before, but it’s going to be different,” Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky told USA TODAY. “We want to be ready before anyone else. That’s why we made so many improvements.”
Airbnb’s flexible planning options
Airbnb’s upgrades include changes to its website, app, community support and policies. Among the most significant changes are three new ways to plan for flexible trips.
Instead of searching for options within a range of fixed dates, users with open-ended plans can use the Flexible Dates feature to search for a weekend getaway, a week-long vacation or month-long stay. The search feature has been used in more than 100 million searches since it launched in February.
Flexible Matching shows users more booking options just outside of their search parameters. For example, a traveler searching for stays priced up to $250 a night could see a room priced at $260 appear the results.
Travelers can also use Flexible Destinations to find specific experiences, like a weekend stay in Spanish castle. The update could be useful for the growing number of travelers who are looking for unique destinations; Airbnb saw a 94% spike in searches for unique homes so far in 2021 compared to the same period in 2019, according to a report released Monday.
Chesky said he believes the flexible searching is “one of the most important features we’ve ever launched.”
Airbnb’s upgrade also simplifies the checkout process, updates the onboarding process for hosts and refreshes its cancellation policies and reviews. Getting assistance from the company’s support team should also be easier, with Airbnb doubling the number of support agents this summer.
Some of the product improvements and features are already up and running.
“There’s this once-in-a-century travel rebound,” Chesky said. “It’s why we made 103 upgrades. … I think these are some of the biggest upgrades we’ve made ever.”
Matching guest with the best deals
Increased flexibility could help travelers avoid exorbitant booking prices.
According to the company’s latest earnings report, gross booking value was $159.82 per night and experiences booked in the first quarter, up 31% from the same period in 2019.
Airbnb pricing received backlash on social media earlier this month, prompting Airbnb to publish a blog post breaking down its pricing. The company sets a service fee that’s usually under 14.2% of the total booking price, while hosts set the cleaning fees and nightly rates. Other charges include occupancy taxes, according to the post.
“We take pride in making the price of a stay transparent for guests – including the fees that are in Airbnb’s control as well as the fees that are not in our control,” the company said in the blog post. “We also understand that there is always room for improvement and to take the feedback we receive from our guests.”
Chesky said there have been hosts in high-demand areas that have raised prices but emphasized that Airbnb wants to remain “a better value.” He said the platform bumps up hosts with better deals higher in search results, and its upgrades allow flexible travelers to choose from a wider selection of stays and price points.
“What we’re trying to do is match our guests to the very best deals on Airbnb, or the best value,” he said. “As more guests are flexible, we have more ability to do that.”
Changing travel trends
These tips can help maximize your stay at a vacation rental
From contacting the rental property owner to what to look for, you might be missing important details that could dramatically improve your stay.
Airbnb’s upgrades are meant to keep pace with new travel trends that have been accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to Airbnb’s report, travelers are more flexible with the timing of their trips and open to exploring a wider range of destinations.
Bookings are also growing longer, in part because more Americans have shifted to a remote or hybrid working environment. The Airbnb report found nearly a quarter of stays in the first quarter of 2021 were 28 days or longer, compared to just 14% in the same period in 2019.
Chesky said those sort of changes have pushed Airbnb to become more than just a travel company.
“Part of our business (is) people living on Airbnb,” he said. “I think this blurring of travel and living … is an inflection point in the travel industry. … We’re going to ride that wave.”
► ‘The DNA of work has changed’: Many Americans want to keep working from home after the COVID-19 crisis passes