Airbnb’s Head of Hospitality on Its Biggest Cities, Tapping Into Luxury, and Why the Sharing Economy is Here to Stay
Airbnb is growing up. The scrappy startup, founded in 2008, has emerged as a major competitor to hotel companies around the world—and it has ignited a passionate community of followers and dissenters alike. Just this week, it launched partnerships with Virgin America and American Express, allowing guests to gain frequent flier miles from their Airbnb bookings or pay for their stays with rewards points. And later this week, it’ll gather up its top hosts in Paris for a get-together of epic proportions—proving that the company has strength in numbers against a host of impending lawsuits in San Francisco and beyond. If it all seems like a tipping point for the sharing economy, that’s because it very well may be. So we talked to Head of Hospitality Chip Conley, a former executive at Marriott and co-founder of Joie de Vivre hotels, about the madness that’s about to ensue—and what comes next for the now-giant company.
With most tech companies, an annual conference can be an excuse for big announcements and product launches. What can we expect from the Airbnb Open?
The Open is our annual host convention and provides an opportunity for our community to connect with each other from around the world, as well as engage with Airbnb employees. Over three days, 6,000 hosts will share tips and stories about hosting, hear from hospitality experts, Airbnb founders and employees, as well as have the opportunity to volunteer their time to give back to the local community.
How did you pick Paris as the host city this year?
Airbnb Open started in San Francisco last year, and in its second year we are bringing it to Paris, our largest Airbnb community.
It’s been a big week for Airbnb. Last Monday alone, you launched partnerships with both Virgin America and American Express. Does this signal a bigger evolution for the company?
These partnerships extend the overall value propositions to our community. We see both as a brand fit with Airbnb and they put creative effort into their experiences.
Talk to me about the most extravagant listings now available on the site— rumor has it you can rent entire islands off the Hamptons and billionaire mansions in Dubai. How did you go from air mattresses in a San Francisco living room to tapping into a luxury audience?
It’s important to remember that Airbnb was built on the premise of offering unique accommodations across the globe at any price point. Luxury isn’t new to our platform— we’ve been offering this experience from the start.
There’s a lot of talk about who Airbnb is for and against. Who do you see as your biggest competitors?
Hospitality is a large, growing market. There is enough room for everyone and we strongly believe we are helping more people to travel, which is good news for everyone.
Recently, there was news that Airbnb was testing a program that allowed guests to book entire weekends—excursions, tours, and all—from the site. And you’ve also acquired a flight booking startup, Vamo. What’s the scoop?
We are always experimenting with new ways to create meaningful experiences on Airbnb. We don’t have anything specific to share at this time.
As Airbnb broadens its business, it broadens the number of companies that are threatened by its success. Are you preparing for a long road of legal battles ahead?
This growth is evidence that home sharing isn’t just a community, it’s a movement. There are literally millions of people around the world who are excited about working with their friends, neighbors, and community leaders to educate them about home sharing. And we’re going to keep working in a constructive and positive way with cities on rules that protect the middle class and work for their community.