Airbnb's Catherine Powell on the trend of long-term vacation rentals

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Catherine Powell joined Airbnb in January 2020 after serving as a Disney theme parks executive for 15 years. Initially, she took the reins of the company's nascent "experiences" service. Then Covid-19 struck, and 80% of Airbnb's business evaporated. Soon after, as the company refocused on its core product, Powell shifted to leading initiatives for the platform's hosts, holding countless listening sessions to get a handle on pressing issues. This year alone, the company has rolled out more than 150 initiatives, including a new suite of tools for hosts that includes WiFi speed verification, accessibility initiatives and a more robust support network. She recently spoke with Travel Weekly acting hotels editor Tovin Lapan.

T1206CATHERINEPOWELL_C [Credit: Courtesy of Airbnb]
Catherine Powell

Q: What trends are you seeing in the way guests use Airbnb?

A: We are seeing this travel revolution where people can truly live anywhere. They are untethered from their home, their place of living and place of working.

One of the biggest trends that we've seen is long-term stays. We had 20% of our booked nights in the third quarter come from long-term stays, which we've defined as stays over 29 days. This is up 14% from the same quarter in 2019.

We're also seeing families are now more flexible about when they travel. The fastest-growing days for booking for families are Mondays and Tuesdays. And we are seeing companies be more flexible in terms of workers being in the office. So, you might be able to work remotely for two, maybe three weeks, and then you tack on your holidays and people are able to spend five or six weeks living somewhere completely different. 

Q: How are you helping hosts navigate these shifting trends?

A: I am very focused on ensuring our hosts are set up for success, and success means they have the tools to address the needs of guests. So one of the things we did was to introduce an insights dashboard for our hosts to help them understand the ways in which travel behaviors were changing. They could see more guests are traveling with pets and they could adapt if they wanted to welcome pets. They were seeing that guests were increasingly working from home so it became more important to offer WiFi and promote it.

Q: How is Airbnb helping hosts and guests make more informed decisions on sustainable travel?

A: It is something that we are very focused on. We have a host advisory board of 18 hosts and one of those is a host from the U.K., Anna, and she is very focused on sustainability and best practices. She sets up workshops, training and other kinds of learning sessions with hosts so they can learn more about ways to be green. 

From a guest perspective, we are looking at ways in which guests can make better choices about sustainable stays. We have, for example, homes that are branded as ecohomes on the platform. They are one of the most searched types of home during the pandemic, and we have many, many more ecohomes coming onto the platform. We also just introduced the off-the-grid category, which is another way to kind of signal to guests where they can find homes that have that lower carbon footprint. This is something that we continue to be very focused on and something that we hear a lot about in the host community. 

Q: What lessons from your time at Disney have served you the most in your role at Airbnb?

A: What I did working in the parks with Disney's cast members was all about guest connection and creating that magical, memorable moment, and that was something that was absolutely transferable to my role. Now, at Airbnb, I am working closely with hosts and enabling them to create that magical connection with our guests. Connection is at the heart of the mission of Airbnb, and it is something that defines the Disney brand. 

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