Published on Thursday, April 7, 2016, at 1:30 p.m.
by Elizabeth Broussard.
One unfamiliar place. Two strangers’ homes. Three young females.
This past spring break, my friends and I took a risk — a risk that involved trusting people we had never met to follow through on some promises that would very easily make or break our trip.
We were traveling to the Pacific Northwest for the first time and wanted truly authentic, local experiences in the cities we were visiting. Hotels were going to be too expensive for the week though, and we didn’t have any friends in the area. Then, another option came to mind: Airbnb.
As a thoroughly paranoid young adult, I can honestly say that I never thought I would be comfortable with the idea of staying in a stranger’s home. What if the pictures online were a lie? What if there were things the host wasn’t telling us? WHAT IF THERE WASN’T ACTUALLY WIFI? All fair concerns, but ones that were soon quieted.
Thanks to wonderful hosts and beautiful homes, our first Airbnb experience was exactly as advertised: welcoming, safe and positive. This company knows what it’s doing.
In 2008, Joe Gebbia and Brian Chesky founded AirBedandBreakfast.com. They knew they were up against some glaring cultural stigmas but believed they had tapped into a service that could change the face of travel forever. Gebbia and Chesky just needed adventurous people to buy into the idea that strangers are only one “hello” away from becoming acquaintances, and acquaintances are only one conversation away from becoming friends.
“I’ve learned that you can take the components of trust, and you can design for that,” Gebbia said in a recent TED Talk. “Design can overcome our most deeply rooted ‘stranger-danger’ bias.”
At the heart of Airbnb’s communication and design strategy is overwhelming honesty and a spirit of full disclosure; the founders knew that smoke and mirrors would get them nowhere. As Gebbia goes on to discuss in his talk, the well-designed reputation system is the very thing that fosters trust among travelers and hosts, and mutual reviews help keep both parties accountable. As a result, negative experiences — fake listings, trashed homes, etc. — are few and far between. While the company will acknowledge that problematic rentals have taken place, it’s always quick to reassure travelers that these issues are not likely, expected or tolerated.
Furthermore, Airbnb’s mastery of creative content marketing and powerful storytelling has helped establish the brand as one worth trusting. From vibrant short films to host and traveler tutorials to its new “Neighborhoods” feature, consumers can’t help but want to experience what this service offers — meaningful travel with the hope of “belonging anywhere.”
What’s unique about Airbnb, however, is that it’s not only creating an innovative offshoot of the sharing economy model, but also redefining the very meaning of travel. No longer is travel about “getting away”; it’s about “going to.” It’s about finding your place within different cultures and connecting with people — hearing their stories.
“Today, homes are designed around the idea of privacy and separation. What if homes were designed to be shared from the ground up?” Gebbia posits. “What would that look like? What if cities embraced a culture of sharing? I see a future of shared cities that bring us community and connection instead of isolation and separation.”
Airbnb is one brand that understands the power of a well-crafted communication strategy no matter how eccentric the central idea may be. After all, the messaging was effective enough to turn a paranoid girl into a carefree adventurer.