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Airbnb Overhauls How You Discover Stays, Its Biggest Revamp in a Decade

Joan E. Solsman Former Senior Reporter
Joan E. Solsman was CNET's senior media reporter, covering the intersection of entertainment and technology. She's reported from locations spanning from Disneyland to Serbian refugee camps, and she previously wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal. She bikes to get almost everywhere and has been doored only once.
Expertise Streaming video, film, television and music; virtual, augmented and mixed reality; deep fakes and synthetic media; content moderation and misinformation online Credentials
  • Three Folio Eddie award wins: 2018 science & technology writing (Cartoon bunnies are hacking your brain), 2021 analysis (Deepfakes' election threat isn't what you'd think) and 2022 culture article (Apple's CODA Takes You Into an Inner World of Sign)
Joan E. Solsman
3 min read
Sarah Tew/CNET

What's happening

Airbnb is revamping its service so categories of stays -- from castles to caves, from iconic cities to off-the-grid spots -- become the starting points for your search, alongside other tweaks.

Why it matters

Travel is expected to reach or exceed prepandemic levels this year, as loosening COVID restrictions unleash pent-up travel demand.

Airbnb on Wednesday revamped how it curates listings, part of an overhaul that CEO Brian Chesky calls the biggest change to Airbnb in a decade. 

The biggest shift is the introduction of categories as a primary way of discovering places to stay. But the changes, which Airbnb is referring to collectively as Summer Release 2022, also includes a new cluster of traveler protections included free with all bookings and the ability to book "split stays" that can help you find lodging matches at two different homes during your trip.

Airbnb's changes come as travel is expected not only to increase in the unwinding of COVID restrictions but also to morph as people reimagine travel in post-pandemic life. US travel and tourism is expected to exceed prepandemic levels this year, according to industry trade group World Travel & Tourism Council, with international travel seen coming close

Airbnb's new categories are aimed at solving the travel-shopping dilemma that the starting point on most travel-booking sites is the travel destination, making people first decide where they want to go before being able to search for the kind of place they want to stay. That can result in time wasted searching multiple areas individually if all you really wanted was some house, any house with a pool somewhere warm.

"Travel is the ultimate uninformed purchase. The whole point of travel is to go somewhere you're unfamiliar with," Chesky said in an interview Tuesday. But finding a stay starting with a search box -- the default starting point for Airbnb and competitors -- is like a fill-in-the-blank that people can't fill with places they've never heard of. 

"We think if we can move away from the search box, we can help you to travel," Chesky said. 

With categories, Airbnb will allow you search for a stay in a castle or a treehouse, depending on your preference. It'll make it easier to find a stay somewhere near a national park if you're not committed which park it is. 

Airbnb has 56 categories, all now listed in a carousel at the top of Airbnb's app and website. They represent 4.4 million listings on the service, out of its more than 6 million active listings. Airbnb is also going to be adding "a lot" more new categories, Chesky said, including one devoted to sustainable travel and ecotourism. 

Split stays can help you pair different homes no farther than about a two-hour drive from each other area for people traveling somewhere for a week or more. That can help travelers who want to go to a particular area but can't find listings available for the full duration of their trip. It can also assist people who'd like to go on a more extended trip somewhere, but they'd like to stay in more than just one town. 

AirCover is what Airbnb calls "most comprehensive free protection in travel" for guests. It includes: 

  • A booking protection guarantee: If a host cancels within 30 days of check-in, Airbnb commits to finding you a similar or better home, or it will refund you. 
  • A check-In guarantee: If you can't check into your home and the host can't resolve the issue, Airbnb will find you a similar or better home for the length of your original stay, or it will refund you.
  • A get-what-you-booked guarantee: If you find your listing isn't as advertised, you'll have three days to report it and Airbnb will find you a similar or better home or Airbnb will refund you. This is an extension of the reporting window from 24 hours to 72 hours. 
  • A 24-hour safety line: If you feel unsafe, safety agents are available to respond via phone or text within an average of 30 seconds. The safety agents' phone support has widened to 16 languages and text support is in 47 languages. Should you wish to leave the booking, Airbnb will help you find a similar or better home or offer to refund your stay.
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