Airbnb unveils flexible booking options, updated reviews

The short-term rental company is rolling out several updates to improve search and booking processes.

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3 min read

Airbnb is adapting to changing travel activity.

Angela Lang/CNET

Airbnb on Monday launched more than 100 updates throughout its website, app and policies. New features make it easier for anyone to become a host and give guests more flexibility with their travel plans, the company says. 

"We are seeing three fundamental shifts in travel as people become less tethered and more flexible," Airbnb co-founder and CEO Brian Chesky said in a release. "People can travel anytime, they are traveling to more places and they are staying longer. The lines between travel, living and working are blurring and we are upgrading our service to make it easier for people to integrate travel into their lives, and for more people to become Hosts."

Airbnb's new browsing and booking experience is centered on flexibly, the company says, with three ways to search: Flexible Dates, Flexible Matching and Flexible Destinations. 

Flexible Dates, which began rolling out in February, is designed to make it easier to find a place to stay if you're flexible on the timing of your trip. Instead of entering fixed dates, you can search for more general lengths of time like a weekend trip, or a week- or month-long stay. Airbnb says there have already been over 100 million searches that have used Flexible Dates. 

Flexible Matching gives users a wider range of listing results by showing homes that are just outside the search parameters. This is designed to show users listings that may be ideal for them but just outside what they specified in their search, such as a slightly pricier home with a better view. 

Lastly, Flexible Destinations allows users to plan trips when they aren't looking to go to a specific location. This allows people to find unique properties in places they may not have considered searching for. 

New search filters also adapt to the season or location and let people search for properties near points of interest like national parks. People can also specify features they'd like to see, like whether a home has an ocean view or if the fireplace is gas or wood-burning. 

Travel rebounds

These changes come as the pandemic reshapes how we work and vacation. More widespread telecommuting means employees can often sign on from anywhere in the world, opening the door to more frequent and long-term travel. Airbnb says the share of stays lasting 28 days or longer has jumped from 14% of nights booked in 2019 to 24% in the first quarter of 2021. That's just one part of what Chesky sees as a travel industry that's "roaring" back. 

"This is probably the biggest rebound in travel in nearly a century," Chesky told CNET in an interview Monday.

That doesn't mean there won't be changes to how and when we travel. The CEO added that business travel probably won't go back to the way it was before, since platforms like Zoom have opened the door to more remote meetings and virtual workplace collaboration.  

"The bar to get on a plane to go to a meeting is now higher," Chesky said. "There's going to be a general shift to leisure travel."

To prepare for this anticipated surge in travel, Airbnb also simplified its host onboarding process from dozens of steps to 10. Technologies like computer vision deep learning models will "automatically arrange photos based on their guest appeal," and smart text suggestions assist hosts with writing titles and descriptions for their listings. In the US, the company has integrated publicly available real estate data to automatically fill in details like how many bedrooms and bathrooms are in a property. 

Airbnb is also doubling the number of customer support agents this summer and will expand support language offerings from 11 to 42 languages. 

Other changes to the platform include a faster checkout process with fewer steps for new guests, updated reviews with a wider spectrum including critiques and compliments to rate a stay, and clearer cancellation policies.