Credit: Kyle Glenn at Unsplash
By Marian Makkar, RMIT University, Amanda Spry, RMIT University, Jessica Vredenburg, Auckland University of Technology
In Australia, state and international borders are reopening and travel is back on the table, just in time for the holidays. For the tourism industry, this marks the start of the path of economic recovery after the latest COVID-19 closures.
However, this presents new challenges for hosting providers. Travelers’ expectations have changed and social interactions are different, even since the same time last year. Additionally, hosting providers need to be vigilant to changes in COVID-19 regulations and rules and adapt their offerings to ensure compliance and security.
These challenges are even greater for peer to peer hosting companies, such as individuals or families who rent their own accommodation through sharing platforms like Airbnb. Airbnb is no stranger to major disruption. Since its inception in 2008, Airbnb has transformed how and where people stay when they travel. They have seen their business explode because today more than ever people are taking full advantage of not being anchored in big cities and experiencing different lifestyles.
Airbnb’s original ethic promised travelers that they could “belong to any place” and enjoy “live like a local”. Living up to this philosophy meant that guests bonded socially with hosts and locals, while providing a sense of friendliness and uniqueness not commonly found in the average hotel.
How does this translate into the post-pandemic travel experience? What can small, local accommodation providers learn from industry powerhouses like Airbnb to improve their guest’s comfort and experience and their own business performance this holiday season?
Make your home a destination for “stays” and “work stays”
Earlier in the pandemic, Australians were encouraged to travel close to home thanks to the idea of ’stay’. A more recent emerging phenomenon is “workcation” – capitalizing on the flexibility of remote working that looks set to remain after the pandemic.
Airbnb was successful in promoting their homes to business travelers long before the pandemic, showcasing facilities like WIFI and user-friendly workspaces. Being a digital nomad now has a wider appeal with more people calling from a remote office. It blurs the lines between life, travel and work and vacations are no longer a seasonal occasion. Local hosts can adopt Airbnb’s strategy, promoting homes as work destinations.
The social bond in the age of social distancing
The desire for social connection is high, but so is the need to observe social distancing. How can this conundrum be handled by local hosts?
Airbnb was ahead of the game when it came to creating authentic social connectivity where “strangers become friends” even without in-person conversations. Even their most recent ad campaign ends with the call, “Foreigners aren’t that weird. Try the accommodation ”. Research into Airbnb’s digital features shows that hosts are encouraged to express their care for guests by staying in touch with them through the platform’s messaging app. Messages can be supplemented with personalized local recommendations. Money can change the dynamics of the relationship from social to transactional, so the platform also works as a buffer for annoying conversations about cancellations and costs.
Outside of the app and inside the property, Airbnb hosts are encouraged to leave a welcome basket with a manual. Wording is key – “manuals” signal a desire to help clients while “rules” can easily be seen as strict and overbearing. Local accommodation providers can connect with their guests through similar non-contact gestures: consider a care package, a guide for guests to get the most out of the property and its surroundings, and an agreed-upon communication channel that works well for all parties.
Uniqueness is key – except when it comes to cleaning and hygiene
People have been locked in their homes for months, and one of the perks of staying at someone’s home instead of a hotel is its uniqueness. Hosts with special features in their accommodation – make it obvious! But alongside the sense of adventure and uniqueness, safety is essential.
In the accommodation industry, thorough cleaning and strict hygiene have become the norm. But standardization can be a problem for sharing and peer-to-peer platform businesses. In this case, the hosting provider is a regular owner who must take responsibility for improving cleaning standards. Customers should be able to trust that this has been done.
Even before the pandemic, Airbnb streamlined the different hygiene standards between hosts and managed to make it a central point of their platform service. Now, Airbnb hosts follow a cleaning manual and receive a commendation for their listing online.
Importantly, as hosts reopen their homes to guests, this vacation can be superior cleaning protocol, clear clues that the space has been cleaned, and a recognition badge to reward hosts and reassure guests.
Don’t throw technology away – it’s more accessible and inclusive
There are members of our community for whom virtual life becoming the “new normal” has changed their lives in terms of inclusion and visibility in society. Let us not spoil the gains made in this regard.
Airbnb Experiences offers hybrid tourism, including distance cooking classes and wine tastings, showing that it’s possible for people to explore and learn from home. Rather than removing items or online experiences from your hosting that were introduced earlier in the pandemic, consider how they can be used to deliver accessible and inclusive hybrid offers.
As people embark on a journey – hopefully without being thwarted! – the hosts will be on a tightrope between adventure and conviviality, safety and cleanliness for their guests.
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