Catherine Powell joined Airbnb in January 2020 after serving as Director of Disney Theme Parks for 15 years. At first, she took the reins of the company’s nascent “experiences” service. Then Covid-19 hit, and 80% of Airbnb’s business evaporated. Soon after, as the company refocused on its core product, Powell moved on to leading initiatives for platform hosts, hosting countless listening sessions to get a handle on pressing issues. This year alone, the company rolled out more than 150 initiatives, including a new suite of guest tools that includes WiFi speed verification, accessibility initiatives, and a more robust support network. She recently spoke with Travel Weekly’s acting hotel editor Tovin Lapan.
Question: What trends are you seeing in the way travelers use Airbnb?
A: We are seeing this travel revolution where people can truly live anywhere. They are detached from their home, their place of life and their place of work.
One of the biggest trends we’ve seen is long-term stays. We had 20% of our nights booked in the third quarter coming from long-term stays, which we defined as stays longer than 29 days. This is an increase of 14% compared to the same quarter in 2019.
We are also seeing that families are now more flexible in their travel arrangements. The most dynamic days for bookings for families are Mondays and Tuesdays. And we see companies being more flexible in terms of office workers. So you might be able to work remotely for two, maybe three weeks, and then you go on vacation and people can spend five or six weeks living in a completely different place.
Question: How are you helping hosts navigate these changing trends?
A: I’m very focused on ensuring our hosts are ready for success, and success means they have the tools to meet guest needs. So, one of the things we did was introduce an information dashboard for our guests to help them understand how travel behaviors are changing. They could see that more guests are traveling with pets and they could adapt if they wanted to accommodate pets. They saw that more and more customers were working from home, so it became more important to offer and promote WiFi.
Question: How does Airbnb help hosts and travelers make more informed sustainable travel decisions?
A: This is something that we are very focused on. We have a Host Advisory Board of 18 hosts and one of them is a host from UK Anna and she is very focused on sustainability and best practice. She runs workshops, trainings and other types of learning sessions with hosts so they can learn more about ways to be green.
From a guest perspective, we look for ways in which guests can make better choices when it comes to sustainable stays. We have, for example, houses that are marked as green houses on the platform. They are one of the most wanted types of homes during the pandemic, and we have many, many more eco-homes coming to the platform. We’ve also just introduced the off-grid category, which is another way to signal customers where they can find homes that have a lower carbon footprint. This is something we continue to be very focused on and hear a lot about in the host community.
Question: What lessons from your time at Disney have served you the most in your role at Airbnb?
A: What I did while working in the parks with the Disney cast members was all about connecting with the guests and creating this magical, memorable moment, and it was something that was absolutely transferable to my role. . Now at Airbnb I work closely with hosts and allow them to create that magical connection with our guests. Connection is at the heart of Airbnb’s mission, and it’s something that defines the Disney brand.