What can airlines learn from Airbnb’s latest product and how can airlines respond?
What do you get when three techpreneurs live out their rockstar fantasy?
Correct: Airbnb’s launch of Trips in LA last month, replete with bro-hugs, headworn microphones, and Brian Chesky’s parents in the audience.
The enthusiasm was infectious - the contagion of virality - precisely why a company creates an elaborate launch: get that stone rolling so it can gather moss.
This is not a new stone. Brian Chesky et al have correctly identified an opportunity in travel around experience, and have dragged this boulder from industries further afield like online retail or streaming to gather said moss.
And, make no mistake, Airbnb plan on gathering all the moss in the world of travel.
No need to despair, frankly there is no time for it.
Ever the optimists, we recognise that this is the perfect opportunity for the travel industry to follow Airbnb’s lead, and airlines are ideally positioned to take advantage and create that experience.
So, what can airlines learn from Airbnb’s latest product and how can airlines respond?
Since 2014, Airbnb have been studying the customer’s journey, and they discovered that 43% of their users could be categorised as explorers. “For these travelers, the neighbourhood vibe and personality of their accommodation are a top priority.” While the host descriptions of amenities are helpful, ultimately these travelers had to visit other sites to discover the ideal neighbourhood for their stay.
Airbnb solved this by launching Live There, a search tool that uses filters around neighbourhood vibes to inform accommodation recommendation on one side, and the curated content (guides etc) to fulfil the search on the other.
The data surfaced around search and engagement would allow Airbnb to personalise marketing and recommend inventory in lesser performing neighbourhoods.
A clever solution to the classic dilemma of selling long tail inventory.
Airbnb’s latest offering, Trips, is a more comprehensive integration of resources to better curate the customer’s journey. Trips has subsumed Homes in the more colourful context of Experiences and Places (Flights and Services to follow).
“For many, travel is easy, but it’s not magical,” Brian Chesky quipped at the launch of Trips, last month. “If you want to have an amazing trip, you end up on a research project. You can spend as much time planning your trip, as on your trip. We want to fix this. We don’t think there should be a trade off. Travel can be magical and easy.”
Easy: a beautifully designed, single platform for all your travel needs.
Magical: tapping into the traveler’s desire to go beyond consumerism to authentic experiences.
Tourism is widely regarded among this Millennial generation as a derogatory term of a transaction-based industry around consuming locations en masse.
Airbnb propose that to achieve an authentic experience in a new location, the traveler must connect with the local community. The tourist returns home with a suitcase full of trinkets; the traveler returns enriched and transformed by encountering the local people. The people with whom we connect are the magic in every trip.
Airbnb are aligning their product with the values of a new generation of traveler. Trips is a holistic view of travel. It positions Airbnb as the authority of authentic experience, to the scorn of all things touristy.
They travel more
They spend more
They value unique experiences
They are loyal to brands they like and will spend more
They value convenience and are willing to pay more for it
What if an airline followed Airbnb’s example and fully committed to the customer’s experience? What if an airline partnered with expert locals worldwide, harnessing their passion for their cities, and incorporated this content into their marketing approach. Instead of email blasts about extra baggage allowance, airlines could personalise recommendations around in-destination seasonal attractions, bespoke experiences and local insights. Airlines could approach travel from a customer’s perspective, not the flight, but the destination the flight serves.
This is not a difficult process; the services are available and it can be achieved within a budget, but there are two barriers to entry: integration and curation.
An airline would need to integrate a recommendation system in order better understand the destinations and interests of their customers. The system could identify the context by which to match a customer to a destination, thereby personalising the recommendation.
Aggregating content is achievable, Google do this best. But curation is the process of revealing the best guides to lead the travellers in-destination. Curation determines the harmony of a customer’s experience, and the relevancy of the marketing.
To date, airlines have viewed destination content as a box to be ticked, rather than the linchpin of a customer’s entire experience. The content is broad and generic, often lacking a true voice, and this is reflected in poor session times, conversion rates and repeat visits.
Despite the intentions of Airbnb (and Google), airlines still occupy prime real estate in the customer’s journey. Airlines have been noticeably slow to adjust and communicate in the language this generation is speaking. Curating the customer’s experience does not require million-dollar budgets, but it does demand complete brand commitment. Anything less is considered generic. Airbnb have profound insight into today’s traveler and they have invested their entire brand to accommodate them; this is the perfect time for airlines to respond.