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Q&A with Amanpreet Bajaj, Country Manager, Airbnb – India

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JS: What are the trends we can expect in the hospitality service industry in 2018? 

AB: Travel and hospitality are dynamic industries, seeing an incredible diversity based on consumer preferences. The past year has seen more travelers experimenting to gain unique experiences, as the number of choices available reach an all-time high. A new era of travel and hospitality has emerged, with consumers who are sure of their preferences, more so than ever before.

Experiential travel: Owing to the fact that travel has seen a templatization in the past decade, travelers who are more aware of their choices are keen to explore new ways to experience the world. Travellers now want to build their itineraries and want to immerse themselves in the local culture, cuisine, and more. Addressing this need, we launched Airbnb Trips in 2016 with the vision to add value to the travel experience, offering bookable experiences that bring travelers close to local arts, culture, cuisine, and more.

Personalized travel experiences: Each person’s interpretation of hospitality varies, and the common element in all traveler preferences across categories is the ability to personalize and customize travel. As technology makes everything impersonal, the need for human interaction and subjective experiences is expected to peak. At Airbnb, we recognize that each host on our platform has something unique to offer in their home, their culture, their cuisine, and even their language, and can transform the way their guests experience the neighborhood or city.

International travel & long weekends: Technology has brought the world closer than it has ever been, and has made international travel more accessible and easier to plan. With platforms like Airbnb bringing together hosts and guests in 191+ countries, travelers no longer see planning an international vacation as a daunting task. In 2017, Indian travelers on Airbnb were seen taking trips to popular locations like London, Paris and New York, as well as planning trips to tropical locations like Bali, Thailand etc.

Another prominent trend we observed was the thorough utilization of long weekends to plan international as well as domestic trips. Travel features more regularly and prominently in the lives of consumers today, and whether it is a 3-day getaway or a month-long vacation, it is likely to retain its importance as respite from more stressful everyday environments.

Luxury Travel: While millennial travellers look to optimize their travel plans and plan quick, budget trips, there is a growing audience that is seeking to plan luxury vacations in exotic destinations. With rising disposable income, this trend has been on the rise. Some of the top locations preferred by Indian Airbnb travelers included luxury destinations like Paris, London, and New York.

JS: How has marketing in this sector evolved over the last few years?

AB: It is important to hold the attention of the consumer. Travel service providers and aggregators have acknowledged this need, and have diversified their marketing plans accordingly. Whether it is a growing focus on digital engagement, offering unique travel propositions, value for money deals, or influencer engagement to build resonance – intelligent players have been sure to explore each avenue to build mindshare for their brands. Additionally, today’s marketer has moved towards a more personalized approach towards his customers by targeting individuals with a focused and planned approach rather than looking at mass outreach.

JS:How do you use digital technology to stay in sync with your consumers?

AB: With the advent of the internet and increased adoption of smartphones, today’s consumer is looking to leverage the power of technology in everyday life. Increasingly, people are planning their travel online as they seek a seamless experience.The new age Indian traveller places greater importance on travel in their life, using it as a way to break away from everyday routine, and to discover themselves and the world.  Home sharing also offers the scope for exciting ways to travel to discover new destinations like never before.

Aligned with the needs of our consumers, we have implemented a holistic, 360-degree marketing approach to engage with the travel community in India. This includes a mix of print, television, out-of-home, and a significant focus on digital and social media. Of these, technology has played a central role in enabling our consumers to better understand the value that Airbnb brings to their lives. Through digital engagement we have been successful in taking the value of Airbnb closer to our consumers. This extends to social media interaction, as well as leveraging the digital medium to connect users with influencers who choose Airbnb.

This approach was a key focus of the ‘Live There’ campaign launched in India in April, 2017, which was born from a basic insight about what travelers seek when they embark upon their journeys. Through the campaign, we aimed to inspire travelers to reimagine what travel means to them, highlighting authentic and magical experiences made possible through Airbnb and its community of over 4 million homes.

Focused on building a deeper connect with the new age Indian traveler, we have worked towards establishing a stronger local resonance among our growing Indian community. Taking #LiveThere a step further, we also partnered with Viacom 18’s entertainment channel MTV India to host the online #LiveThere contest giving the young Indian traveler the chance to have a unique travel experience. Contest winners got the chance to head to their favorite destination accompanied by popular celebrities – DJ Nikhil Chinapa in Thailand, fashion icon VJ Anusha Dandekar in Milan, and Bollywood actress Radhika Apte in London. To showcase how Airbnb gives the world a view into local customs and culture, we also recently launched a Diwali campaign under the ‘Live There’ banner to welcome the world to celebrate the festival of Diwali in India like locals do. The campaign saw the digital launch of a video which showcased the story of an international guest and an Indian host, and how technology brought them together to create the experience of a lifetime.

JS: Could you tell our readers what makes Airbnb stand out in today’s competitive environment?

AB: Airbnb is a people-powered platform that connects guests with hosts, and the community is at the heart of what we do. The beauty of the brand is that we have been a global platform right from the start, with a network of guests and hosts that span across the globe.

A new way to discover the world: what sets us apart is that we focus on the ‘who’ and ‘why’ of travel, more than ‘what’ or ‘where.’ Travelers are increasingly seeking to break away from standard itineraries, and Airbnb gives them the opportunity to discover the world on their own terms. Going beyond logistics, travelers can choose to live like locals do, anywhere in the world. Airbnb is bringing together a global community of people who want to discover more about the world, and travel holds the key to bringing this community closer together.

Economic empowerment through utilizing community resources: Airbnb offers a chance for keen hosts to utilize their existing/unused property assets, maximizing their economic value and serving sometimes as an alternate, or even a primary means of livelihood. We have heard several host stories on being able to earn additional income in a period of adversity, or as a way to be able to explore their personal ambitions, whilst earning through hosting. With each new market that Airbnb has entered, we have taken the time to understand the spirit of the locals, who have gone on to become a part of our global community of travelers and hosts.

Boosting tourism: With Airbnb hosts opening up homes in over 191+ countries, hosts present on Airbnb serve as a means to boost tourism as an industry. With new experiences for travelers to have in each home, it serves as a more inclusive method of engaging the community in working towards a more largescale economic impact.

Economic boost for atypical travel destinations: As the global population has moved to cities, so have business capitals, causing a widening gap in economic opportunity between urban and rural areas. At Airbnb, we believe hosting can be a means of helping to close this gap by enabling many more people and communities to share in the returns of the tourism boom, not just the traditional hospitality industry. Home sharing also helps communities welcome more visitors without having to invest in expensive, permanent hospitality infrastructure, including for major events that can bring an unprecedented infusions of revenue and put previously little known destinations on the global map.

Right now, our biggest focus in India is to get more people to become acquainted with the value that Airbnb can add to their travel experiences, and to reap the benefits of home-sharing. We’re on a steady growth trajectory in the country as we continue to expand our network.

JS: How do you provide the best customer experience to your clients?

AB: Since its inception in 2008, close to 1 million Indians have traveled with Airbnb. This figure is a testimony to the acceptance we have witnessed from Indian travelers towards a new way of discovering the world. Over the past year, Airbnb, has witnessed 115% growth in listings in the country and such positive numbers clearly showcase the importance of India in our overall growth plan.

Over time, we have continued to engage with the market in order to deepen our understanding of the cultural nuances and local dynamics.

Being a platform that thrives on the power of the community, our endeavor is to bring together the hosts and guests listed on our platform, by leveraging the best in innovation and technology. We also encourage and organize workshops to engage with our host community and encourage them to come together and share best practices and hosting experiences with one another, to ensure that we provide our guests the best memories.

Airbnb is a community built on trust—and we’re always looking for ways to help our community host and travel with more confidence. We are constantly exploring innovative and regionally relevant tools to help our community members enjoy a safe and trusted experience.

We have built a number of trust and safety tools that apply to our users worldwide, including in India. This includes Verified ID, 24/7 customer service and safety support, and tools such as our internal messaging tool and a social network feature. These ensure that our guests and hosts get to know each other before a reservation, including detailed profiles, authentic reviews, verifications, which help us in maintaining a transparent community.

About the author / 

Jyotsna Sharma

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