Says the country manager of the US platform: ‘We will get there with guest identification, proposals for national registration and mapping of homes for accessibility’

Tourism is changing more in recent years than in recent decades. And with tourism, the technological solutions that accompany the entire process are changing: inspiration, organisation, travel. Airbnb knows this well: the platform that revolutionised the way people visit the world, finding accommodation in other people’s homes, has responded to the challenges of the last three years quickly and intelligently: ‘We have seen major changes in the way people travel, such as a particular focus and curiosity towards less crowded destinations. In fact, we have seen a growth in tourism towards small towns and rural areas compared to big cities,’ Giacomo Trovato, country manager for Italy and South-Eastern Europe at Airbnb, tells Italian Tech exclusively. ‘Our data show how the ten most visited European cities on Airbnb, including Paris, Barcelona and Rome, accounted for 14% of all travel in Europe in 2022 compared to 20% in 2019. Furthermore, rural stays have become increasingly popular: if we compare the first three quarters of 2019 with those of 2022, the increase is 55%.”

Tools for flexible tourism
Over the months, Airbnb has introduced new versatile search tools, such as the Categories launched last May and the ‘I am flexible’ option, designed precisely to exploit technology to ‘disperse’ tourists, partly counteracting mass flows and deseasonalising leisure or work trips. An approach, along with that of long stays at the limits of digital nomadism, which Airbnb seems to want to encourage along with increasingly comprehensive assistance for those who make their accommodation available.

Indeed, with the latest update, unveiled in recent days, come new tools: Airbnb Start, designed to make it even easier to post a listing on Airbnb; the enhanced AirCover insurance for hosts with technological solutions to control bookings and cover damages up to three million dollars; and six new Categories: New, Top of the World, Trending, Accessible Spaces, Spaces to Play and Hanok.

Digital nomadism
“Digital nomads are certainly among the types of travellers for whom we are developing important innovations,” Trovato confirms. “Since the pandemic, millions of people now have the opportunity to live and work flexibly, and our data shows that in 2021 one in five guests used Airbnb to work remotely while travelling. A trend that continued in the first quarter of 2022, with long-term stays reaching an all-time high, doubling compared to the same period in 2019.

As a result of this new trend, we decided to launch the ‘Live and Work Anywhere’ programme globally, with the aim of identifying the most suitable destinations and collaborating with local authorities and tourism promotion companies to equip and promote these territories as real ‘hubs’ for digital nomads. In Italy we have two of them, one developed with the city and province of Brindisi, the other involving the whole of Friuli-Venezia Giulia’.

Safety, legality and inclusiveness: proposals and some solutions
Safety of guests and hosts, legality in terms of local and national taxation and inclusiveness are just some of the hot fronts for the platform, which has something like 4 million hosts welcoming over 900 million guests: “With the latest Winter Release, we have extended identity verification to all guests travelling to the first 35 countries on Airbnb, with the aim of expanding it to the entire world by next spring,” explains the country manager. “Speaking of inclusivity, we have created the Accessible Spaces Category, which includes accommodations mapped using Matterport’s 3D technology and verified to determine whether they meet Airbnb’s accessibility criteria. With respect to legality, we have put forward a proposal that includes mandatory national registration, the sharing of data on tourist flows with the authorities, the determination of national criteria to define and map the most stressed areas in which to intervene, and the protection of small private property to clearly distinguish it from entrepreneurial activities that need to be more strictly regulated. The goal is to strike a balance between the needs of residents and sustainable tourism, and for this we hope for nationally homogenous, clear and easily enforceable legislation on short-term rentals’.

The open fronts of the tech bigwigs and the impact of Airbnb for city centres
In a way, Airbnb – precisely because of the sudden Covid-related closures and the vertical collapse of global tourism in 2020-2021 – has experienced its dramatic moment at the beginning of the pandemic. What is coming to an end is a year of crisis for the big tech companies but not for the platform co-founded by Brian Chesky (who is the current CEO), Joe Gebbia and Nathan Blecharczyk: ‘Our darkest hour was in May 2020. We found ourselves making difficult decisions, but in the end they made us more agile and disciplined and ready to face future challenges. We have about 30 people in Italy. The office is in Milan, but we have the possibility to live and work anywhere in Italy and the world. Most of our colleagues have chosen to work remotely but we continue to meet at headquarters for regular meetings’.

One of the most frequent objections to Airbnb is that it is changing the connotations of historic centres and many cities, pushing housing prices up and depopulating certain areas of natives, exacerbating the real estate crisis: ‘Only a small percentage of the total number of properties for private residential use in Italy is available on Airbnb,’ Trovato replies. However, we are aware that tourism and housing pressure represent a challenge in some highly visited art cities, so through our proposal we want to play an active role in improving things’.