In the post-pandemic era, both consumers and consumer platforms have changed. As consumer demand for outbound travel has gradually recovered, travel companies and online platforms have also upgraded their services according to consumer demand amid changes due to the pandemic.
On July 8, Airbnb China announced a comprehensive upgrade of its outbound travel services. It consists of three different features: the upgrade of medium and long-term stay experiences, the upgrade of comprehensive guarantees, and barrier-free communication. These changes occurred in an appropriate and timely manner as the demand for outbound travel in the post-pandemic era has increased.
1. Directly Identify and Address the Pain Point of Consumption
The main key to upgrading travel services is to understand the pain points of consumers.
Airbnb China’s latest report, “New Propositions for Global Travel of China’s Generation Z in the Post-Epidemic Era,” shows that the new generation of travelers hope to travel in a slower manner for a longer, in-depth outbound travel experience. With the rising demand for medium and long-term travel, 93% of Chinese Gen Z respondents said that finding lodging and accommodations has become their core pain point in the process of planning medium to long-term travel. There are difficulties in the complicated process of finding living accommodations, the financial burden of one-time payment, and adapting to the living accommodations.
In response to the above pain points, Airbnb has carried out several product upgrades. Kong Zhiqiu, head of Airbnb’s China business, stated that the upgrade of travel services is due to the rise in demand for outbound travel. Airbnb will first distinguish between short-term and medium-to-long-term housing listings to help consumers easily lock in high-quality, well-equipped properties. For example, the featured labels of listings include check-in, complete facilities, and the approval of Chinese tenants. The platform will deeply analyze and understand past search behaviors of users so as to accurately formulate the most helpful locations for users. During the search process, users can filter characteristics of these properties on the search result page to speed up the screening process to their favorite listings.
Second, Airbnb offers split stay. Through the accommodation splitting function, the number of search results for outbound travel listings on the Airbnb platform has increased by an average of 40% compared with the previous period, enriching the choice of listings for users in the process of finding a room. Through accommodation splitting, Airbnb provides a combination recommendation of two housing listings for a period of mid-to-long-term housing needs, expanding housing selection. This also means that users can enjoy two experiences in one city, and gain double the wonderful travel experience.
Finally, Airbnb focuses on the payment pain points of users. Under normal circumstances, due to the high cost of medium and long-term stays, users may have difficulty in payment. Therefore, Airbnb opens the zero-interest monthly payment function for outbound long-term stay orders of 28 days or more. Users can pay monthly to ease the pressure of one-time payment.
In addition to the above features, Airbnb also takes into account other needs of consumers. According to the survey, security and flexibility have become the main considerations for outbound travelers (95%). To this end, Airbnb has launched the most important customer service product upgrade, the AirCover Guarantee Plan. This provides free reservation guarantee, occupancy guarantee, listing authenticity guarantee and 24-hour security for each overseas listing order. These guarantees will ensure worry-free travel for Airbnb users.
Airbnb is currently paying special attention to the experience of Chinese consumers. Features such as the 24-hour security support in the comprehensive guarantee was first introduced by the Airbnb China team before being introduced globally. Furthermore, Kong Zhiqiu revealed that the upgrades to enhance recommendations for medium and long-term housing options were made specially for the Chinese user experience.
Survey data shows that the new generation of travelers are more eager for interpersonal and emotional connections during their outbound travel journeys than ever before, but language barriers and cultural differences are causing them difficulties achieving this (86%). In Airbnb’s global community, with more than 4 million hosts in more than 220 countries and regions, translation is a vital product feature.
The enhanced translation function launched by Airbnb China this time has successfully improved the translation level of more than 99% of the listings on the Airbnb platform. Users can get immediate translations and can easily communicate across languages.
2. Catch the Attention of Generation Z Consumers
In the post-epidemic era, Gen Z consumers have become the mainstay of outbound travel.
According to the report, “New Ideas for Global Travel of China’s Gen Z in the Post-epidemic Era” 85% of Chinese Gen Z respondents are now more eager to explore the world via outbound travel, and 82% of Gen Z consider going abroad within six months after travel restrictions diminish. Similarly, this figure is 68% in the 2021 Airbnb survey and this figure has grown rapidly in the past year. In addition, the proportion of Gen Z who considered traveling abroad rose from 40% to 49% within 3 months after relaxation of travel restrictions.
From the platform’s point of view, Generation Z is the key group for outbound travel consumption in the future. This is why the upgrade in travel services focuses on the needs of young people. From a long-term perspective, Airbnb believes that Generation Z will redefine the future of travel as a whole.
In addition, Airbnb also takes into account the needs of international students when upgrading their services. As summer is the time to enter school, Airbnb China chose this time to focus on releasing user insights and product upgrades, precisely targeting the current outbound travel needs of specific groups of people.
Airbnb has more far-reaching considerations in releasing products targeting the needs of Gen Z consumers. From the perspective of consumption characteristics, the various personalized needs of Generation Z in outbound travel are conducive to the development of the homestay industry. Airbnb is strategically betting on Generation Z consumers.
As a representative of personalized consumption, the consumption expectations of Generation Z have extended to different segmented needs. Staying in a destination for a longer time has become a consumption characteristic of young people. 85% of Chinese Gen Z respondents choose to travel slowly when traveling abroad, exploring multiple outbound destinations at a time, or slowing down and taking longer trips. Global booking data from Airbnb also shows the broad and strong demand for slow travel. In the first quarter of 2022, long-stay bookings of 28 days or more doubled compared to the same period in 2019, accounting for about 30% of global travel.
The slow pace means that outbound travel is not the same as the concept of tour groups in the past. Slow travel also makes young people prefer homestays in terms of accommodation consumption. 88% of Chinese Gen Z respondents believe that it is more important to experience the authentic life and cultural customs of local people during global travel than before the epidemic. Accommodation options that highlight local characteristics are also increasingly welcomed by Gen Z. In addition, Gen Z prefers a hassle-free travel experience by opting for more private accommodation options. In terms of accommodation, safety and reliability, cleanliness, and private locations have become the considerations for more travelers.
In addition, young consumers are more inclined to niche destinations. 87% of Chinese Gen Z respondents are more eager to explore lesser-known destinations and gain niche and unique outbound travel experiences. As a result, homestays have become a more widely known option in niche destinations. When it comes to accommodations, Gen Z generally prefers options with unique, edgy, modern, and retro-historic designs. This trend is also evident globally, with Airbnb users around the world staying in more than 4 million unique homestays this summer. As of the end of the first quarter, the number of related room nights had surged by 80% compared to the same period in 2019. When there is change in the needs of consumers, Airbnb actively embraces changes to accommodate the needs of their consumers.
3. Comprehensive Services for Outbound Tourism Recovery
Whether it is by upgrading products to meet consumer needs, or by releasing features that are beneficial for mid- to long-term accommodation, Airbnb’s strategy conveys its optimism about China’s outbound travel consumer market.
Kong Zhiqiu said, “Represented by Generation Z, there is a great desire to travel abroad following the relaxation of the immigration policy. In the long run, we are full of confidence in the outbound travel market.”
How will Airbnb meet the growing demand for outbound travel from Chinese consumers? Airbnb’s strengths lie in its rich global resources, product innovation, and brand experience that understands cultural differences.
The first advantage lies in Airbnb’s unique global network resources. Airbnb has 6 million active listings and experiences around the world, of which up to two-thirds are treehouses, houseboats, and other fantastic homestays full of whimsy and unique experiences.
Secondly, Airbnb is always working on product innovation. Airbnb continues to customize product upgrades for Chinese travelers based on insights. On one hand, it will stimulate consumers’ interest in outbound travel with the help of unique housing listings. On the other hand, Airbnb will continue to consolidate safe and reliable accommodations. Kong Zhiqiu states, “Airbnb’s commitment in China has never changed. We will focus more on our business, focus on outbound travel business, and always aim to meet the needs of Chinese users, so as to create a satisfactory solution for the vast number of Chinese users. As I said at the beginning, the goals and directions of Chinese entities and businesses have not changed, and I believe they will not change in the future.”
Finally, Airbnb has a differentiated brand experience. Airbnb delivers unique experiences to all users by providing living accommodations in unique and iconic locations. This is what gives the brand so much value. Kong Zhiqiu mentioned, “The brand power of Airbnb is believed to be felt by everyone. It is not only a noun, but also a verb, and more like a representative symbol in popular culture around the world.”
In the long run, Airbnb is confident in outbound travel. Before the epidemic, China had become the largest outbound consumer country, and the country is now seeing signs of improvement. With the changes in entry and exit policies and the control of the epidemic by countries around the world, Airbnb believes that outbound travel will slowly resume. It is the third year of the epidemic, and many individuals very much hope to reconnect with the world after the border is re-opened.
Taking international students as an example, Kong Zhiqiu revealed that Australia’s outbound policy has been relaxed recently, and the Airbnb platform found that the relevant data has rebounded. The platform’s recovery of the overall Chinese outbound tourism market and the current demand for Chinese students are both important. Although there are still uncertainties in the current exit policy, the demand for students going abroad has always been very strong.
Outbound travel business has always been the direction of Airbnb’s development since entering the Chinese market in 2016. Airbnb stated that it will continue to upgrade its outbound travel services to provide Chinese travelers with the most authentic and high-quality travel experience.
In terms of brand value, Airbnb does not have any instability. Kong Zhiqiu states that Airbnb’s advantage lies in the excellent experience it gives users.
Songzi Li/Managing Editor