By Paul Rouke.

Airbnb started in 2008 and got its name when its three founders rented out air mattresses on the floor of their San Francisco apartment during a conference.

Since then, the company has come a long way.

It’s been disrupting the travel industry by understanding, and moving with, shifts in consumer behaviour.

Despite the fact my family have booked our last seven holidays with Airbnb, I still think it is one of the internet’s best kept secrets.

Here’s how Airbnb is shaping the future of the travel industry:

It’s aspirational

Remember the saying, there is no place like home?

The rise in popularity of boutique hotels proved that there was a growing segment of travellers who wanted a more varied choice of accommodation; an experience characterised with personalised touches and the chance to be immersed in the local culture.

Essentially, Airbnb is a boutique hotel on steroids.

With a homepage headline of “live there”, Airbnb offers the chance to stay in (sorry live in) aspirational, unique homes.

The whole idea is that staying with Airbnb is more than just a holiday, you get to experience new places just like the locals do, which appeals to people who don’t like to see themselves as normal tourists.

Offering some really unique properties for rent, in some of the world’s most spectacular locations, you’d expect that when you first land on the Airbnb website your emotions will be stirred.

Whether it be excitement, amazement or belonging, Airbnb captures these emotions with carefully chosen imagery and background videos.

Yes, there is the search facility layered on top, but first and foremost it has focused on connecting with visitors on a more personable level than any travel agency website I have been on.

I was recently in one of my local travel agents to exchange some money.

While scanning over the shelves of brochures, I couldn’t help but wonder what the cover of an Airbnb holiday brochure would look like.

Brochures

It’s built on pure trust

The only part of the whole customer experience that Airbnb has full control over is the website.

This means that the brand has to place complete trust and faith in the people from around the world who choose to rent their properties on the platform.

It also requires the people renting out their houses to place trust in their guests (who they have never met before), not to mention the trust the holidaymaker or business traveller has to place in their host, with the hope that “what they see online, is what they get.”

As expected, social proof plays an integral role in building that trust.

For people to spend money on their holiday, weekend getaway or business trip with no physical interaction and no “credible travel agent” behind the booking, requires great levels of transparency and confidence.

Don’t forget, you are not getting an ATOL protected holiday through Airbnb.

As you can see, Airbnb is definitely the best when it comes down to harnessing the power of genuinesocial proof.

It’s price sensible

Airbnb connects people to unique travel experiences, at any price point.

For all those millions of people with children who have to go on holiday in school holidays, Airbnb is perhaps the biggest secret they are waiting to discover.

My family and I have booked our last seven family holidays through Airbnb, genuinely saving hundreds of pounds compared to what we would have paid booking through traditional channels.

It’s personable

From the copy used on the website, through to contacting Airbnb, you always receive a very personable experience.

Very often when you arrive at your property, hosts will leave a small welcome note or present to welcome you on your arrival.

Note

You may even get a welcome message on the chalkboard of your new home…

Chalkboard note

The biggest success that Airbnb delivers in this area is that 99% of the time you never actually interact in person with another human. Now that is a special user experience.

It’s innovative

Airbnb isn’t standing still.

I love how the company is now harnessing its community of hosts around the world to provide unique and memorable experiences for travellers whilst staying at their property.

This really helps Airbnb customers to ‘live like a local’.

It’s memorable

Whether a flat for a night, a castle for a week or a villa for a month, Airbnb connects people to unique and inspirational travel experiences.

With property type search filters including Tipi, Earth House and Treehouse, you know you are on to something quite unique.

For all us business travellers, Airbnb also provides us with unique opportunities at competitive prices.

In 2015, myself and two colleagues spent five days in central Vancouver staying in a luxury penthouse apartment worth over £2m.

The cost to us? £130 per person, per night.

It’s responsive

As a brand, Airbnb can provide lessons in responsiveness to many larger, and more experienced businesses.

In my seven family holidays through Airbnb, there was only one occasion where we were let down and when it became clear that we needed Airbnb to resolve our issue with our host, they got on to fixing the issues straight away.

Airbnb recognised the opportunity to turn a potential brand detractor into a brand advocate, by simply being responsive and respectful.

I, for one, gained increased levels of respect for their brand following this.

How many brands are truly responsive and respectful to customers when they have a negative user experience?

Messages

It’s beautiful

From the brand logo, through to the app the Airbnb design and user experience is quite simply beautiful.

I will hold my hands up and say, the Airbnb digital experience played a significant role in a current re-thinking of one of our client’s online experience.

Beautiful

It’s relevant

Small things throughout your stay show you how Airbnb is all about ensuring that customers truly enjoy their experience.

For example, when arriving at your destination Airbnb offers helpful directions to your accomodation.

Welcome

It’s human

In summary, Airbnb is human. Browse around and you see people like you and me who are a part of this unique, growing community.

The people who are taking a different path to experience more memorable, unique and personable travel experiences than we have ever had before.

Conclusion

To me, Airbnb is one of the most inspirational and progressive brands in the world, regardless of industry.

This is mainly due to its forward thinking and absolute focus on the customer experience.

The question is, will the Airbnb experience become the future of the travel industry?

And what can travel agents do to start offering their current customers some of what Airbnb have made central to their overall customer experience?

By Paul Rouke

Paul Rouke is Founder & CEO at PRWD, author and a contributor to Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or hook up with him on LinkedIn.

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