Airbnb Experiences, a long history with several twists and turns. Recently, Airbnb paused the Experiences section, that is, the section dedicated to tourist activities and experiences offered by hosts.
This pause for reflection has raised not a few questions about the long-term strategy of the company, which at the Skift Forum in September 2022, in the words of CEO Brian Chesky had said that it would return to full investment in the experience segment by 2023, after a two-year hiatus.
Chesky told Skift, “We are planning some really exciting things. I think offering unique experiences that you can’t find anywhere else is a big competitive advantage in lodging rentals, because the desire to directly book something special is still the number one priority for travelers.”
Airbnb experiences since back in 2016: how has the strategy evolved?
Airbnb’s experiences business achieved tremendous success immediately in 2016 and was completed in 2020 with the addition of Online Experiences. During the COVID pandemic, Airbnb’s Online Experiences proved to be an important lifeline, especially for tour and activity providers who wanted to maintain a presence in external markets. Despite the emergency, the platform recorded more than 25 million monthly visits.
Even before this, Airbnb had already recognized the potential of the experiences sector. In its IPO document published in November 2020, the company estimated that the opportunity for experiences is almost as large as that of short-term stays and is worth about $1.4 trillion.
From a strategic perspective, Airbnb considers experiences as an extension of its Airbnb host community, allowing hosts to not only share their homes with guests, but also their skills and passions, offering authentic activities in over 1,000 cities around the world. Chesky reiterated this sense of connection during his discussion at the Skift Global Forum when he said that “the travel industry is poised to enter a golden age, with more and more people eager to seek out new experiences while traveling.”
In 2023, Airbnb Experiences was suspended and removed from the homepage
In 2023, Airbnb Experiences disappeared from the homepage, with the company announcing a suspension of all new experience listings. This decision could indicate a shift in direction from previously stated plans or a strategic evaluation.
Airbnb has stated that this is a temporary move to prioritize improving their core services. Existing Experiences will not be affected, but the registration of new ones will be suspended until further notice. The company’s spokesperson stated that more information will be provided in the coming months. Airbnb has also removed tours and activities from its homepage, making them no longer visible for selection, although they are still available for booking on the Experiences page.
Some comments from other tourism players
Former regional director for Asia-Pacific and Middle East and Africa at Viator by Tripadvisor and spokesperson for Go City, Baidi Li, spoke to Skift and stated that the discontinuation of Airbnb Experiences did not come as a surprise. Li commented that despite the industry’s digitization and consolidation in recent years, the tourism experience market remains highly fragmented. Li believes that this decision makes sense since Airbnb needs to focus on its core business to achieve a large-scale sharing economy. However, he expressed the hope that Airbnb can collaborate with the mass market through partnerships in the future to offer travelers a holistic experience that includes both iconic attractions and niche experiences.
Stephen Joyce, the Vice President of Solutions at Holibob, believes that one of the reasons Airbnb decided to discontinue Experiences may be due to the platform’s lack of connections to third-party systems, requiring Experiences hosts to exclusively use Airbnb’s ecosystem to manage bookings. Joyce explained that this may not be ideal for those running full-time operations, despite being manageable for micro-operators.
The tour and activity tourism industry is known for its intense competition. According to the co-founder and chief operating officer of the tour and activity platform GetYourGuide, experience platforms face a distinctive set of challenges compared to other travel segments such as accommodations and flights. This poses significant obstacles for operators, customers, destinations, and technology platforms, which implies that experiences require a great deal of attention to grow. Despite this, the Experiences section on Airbnb has not been eliminated, and while the company does not seem to be actively pursuing its expansion at the moment, it remains a part of the platform.
Airbnb experiences – paused for improvement?
According to TTG, Airbnb’s decision to discontinue new experiences may suggest that the platform is reconsidering the strategic importance of experiences. This shift in direction could indicate that the company wants to concentrate more on its rental accommodations core business.
Despite this, it appears that Airbnb’s travel experience is still a crucial part of the company’s strategy, as the discontinuation of new experiences signals a reorganization and focus on improving the core service. It remains to be seen how this decision will develop and whether it will result in a significant change in strategy for Airbnb.