Where Airbnb leads, will incentive travel follow?

Airbnb’s summer 2022 release was announced this week, with the company positioning the rollout of three new features as “the biggest change to Airbnb in a decade.”

More information about the release is available on Airbnb’s website here, for travel techies to geek out over. Two features caught our eyes however as potential trends for smart incentive travel professionals to capitalize on.  

The introduction of “Airbnb Categories”

Says Airbnb, in its official press release:

Millions of people are now more flexible about where they live and work. But travel search has been the same for 25 years — you enter a location and dates into a search box. Most of us can only think of a few dozen cities to type into the search box.

This led Airbnb to develop its new “Categories” feature — where would-be renters can search for a type of room or property to stay in rather than searching by destination first.

Translating this thinking to incentive travel, should we be exploring ways to let the “wow” and awe factors of hotels and other accommodation lead when planning incentive experiences, instead of the destination itself?

This would seemingly contradict trends identified as recently as March 2022. Research published in Edition 3 of Corporate inSITEs, for example, found that destination appeal was the top selection criteria corporate end-users consider when planning incentive trips. Notably though, infrastructure ranked a close second.  

While incentive planners are highly unlikely to start booking swaths of Airbnbs (though maybe they will, if you truly can search for entire castles to rent out per Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky’s demonstration!) it’s worth keeping an ear on conversations and participant preferences to see whether the appeal and prominence of properties themselves start dominating rather than overall destination appeal.

As an aside, Airbnb also claims their Categories feature will introduce people to places they would not have found otherwise — encouraging visits to “new locations beyond the same popular destinations.”

With the entire global tourism industry concerned about over-tourism, it’s also worth tracking Airbnb’s efforts to see if this approach offers innovative solutions we could adopt for incentive travel, to realize similar benefits.

A second feature to study: “Split Stays”

COVID-19 has changed the way we live and work. We’ve already shared a few thoughts on how to translate incentive travel experiences for increasingly remote and hybrid teams.

Airbnb’s Split Stays feature is very much on trend, targeting an increasing number of travelers staying in a destination for a week or more by giving them an option to divide their stay between two separate listings.

Consider how we might translate this concept to incentive travel. Accommodation could be split between sister properties to offer guests two unique experiences, and would allow hotels to fit more programs into a week without having to block rooms for a full 5 or 7-day stay.

There’s the potential to reduce a program’s climate impacts, if itineraries can be divided so that qualifiers stay closer to where activities will take place and time can be split between different sides or neighborhoods of a destination.

Splitting could also simply provide a change of scenery or re-set the tone, especially if an incentive is combined with a meeting or sales kickoff.  

Undoubtedly some savvy companies and planners may have already been pursuing strategies like this. But for those who haven’t yet, doing so now could help creatively overcome some of the challenges we currently face such as staffing and supply chain shortages.

Exploring a “split stay” model for incentive travel may require more upfront work, but could smooth challenges down the line by lessening demand on a single property and distributing workloads on resort and hotel teams — which could very well pay off in terms of qualifier satisfaction.

We’ll see whether these two strategies pay off for Airbnb. But if Chesky and his team find success, what’s to stop our industry from doing the same?

Written by

SITE Staff


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