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Airbnb uses What3words locations so you'll find your host in a Mongolian forest

Because nomads' tents don't have street addresses.

What3words' three-word addresses can be used to locate a Airbnb stay with Mongolian nomads.
What3words' three-word addresses can be used to locate an Airbnb stay with Mongolian nomads.

A partnership between Airbnb and What3words means you can now use your phone to navigate to a tent deep in the forest of northern Mongolia.

What3words gives every 10-foot-square patch of the Earth a three-word label, providing a digital locator not just to homes and businesses but to sites that don't have addresses. For example, the enchanted river at the Jardin d'Acclimitation amusement park, just west of Paris, is purist.decay.spoken.

The French boat ride, however, stays put. It isn't quite as easy to find Airbnb hosts Otgonbayar and Zorigt. If you want to stay with the Mongolian nomads, who spent the summer at settings.holly.stereo but decamped to follow a reindeer herd, you can't rely on what you see in a guidebook. What3words offers an equivalent to latitude-longitude coordinates that the company says are easier to remember, write down and share.

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The Airbnb-What3words arrangement underscores what modern technology can bring to areas where traditional addressing falls short. Mongolia has adopted What3words for its postal system, and its tourism ministry signed a partnership with Airbnb to try to boost tourism in the remote Asian nation.

"In Mongolia, a lack of traditional street addressing and nomadic way of life have prevented locals from welcoming Airbnb guests into their homes," Cameron Sinclair, social innovation leader at Airbnb, said in a statement. What3words helps tourists find hosts and helps hosts become more prosperous, he said.

London-based What3words, which just opened a San Francisco office, is working to embed itself in the tourism industry, where people often are faced with unfamiliar surroundings and language barriers. The Airbnb partnership in Mongolia should help, though Airbnb hosts aren't required to use What3words addresses and the house-sharing company isn't building What3words into its app or website.

No Google Maps support

You'll need an app to make the What3words system work. There are some, like Navmii or Pocket Earth, that work on phones even when there's no network connection. But you can't use Google Maps, which has its own plus codes technology (formerly called Open Location Code). What3words says its addressing service doesn't compete since it doesn't offer either maps or navigation.

"Our goal is to become a globally recognized standard for location," said Giles Rhys Jones, What3words' chief marketing officer.

Partnerships are important to that effort. Mercedes, a What3words investor, builds the service into its newer cars, and Sony just invested with the intention of improving its automotive electronics, Rhys Jones said.

Building What3words into devices, websites and apps helps to ease the problem newcomers have if somebody tells them a three-word address. If you have a What3words-capable app, no problem, but if you don't, you'll have to find one before you can make sense of those three words. What3words itself offers its own, but partnerships like those with the carmaker will be key to the technology's adoption, Rhys Jones said.

What3words can be useful in countries with street addresses, too, because not everything is labeled. The production crew for the movie Ready Player One used What3words locations for each scene filmed in Birmingham, England, Rhys Jones said. Domino's on the Caribbean island of Sint Maarten uses What3words to deliver pizzas.

California delivery service Onibag uses it to specify package pickup and drop-off points, too. And Stone Brewing named a beer after its location in Virginia,

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