On May 27, 2020, Head of Experiences Catherine Powell held a livestream to address top questions being heard from the experience host community. She provided updates and further clarity on the Superhost Relief Fund, Online Experiences, and the reopening of in-person experiences. Play the video above for the full remarks, or read on for an overview of what was discussed.
Superhost Relief Fund
While we are proud that Airbnb employees, founders and investors came together to contribute $17 Million to build the Superhost Relief Fund and give back to the host community, we acknowledge that unfortunately it will only be enough to provide relief to a very small percentage of hosts among the millions of hosts we have globally.
This fund is not just for experience hosts, but also for Airbnb homes hosts, of which there are many more. To put it into perspective: there are just over 35,000 experiences on Airbnb while there are almost 4 million homes. So we are under 1% of all listings globally. In all transparency, we have ~3% of the fund to allocate to our hosts. So far, $7.4 million in total has been granted to over 4,000 homes and experiences hosts around the world as a part of this program.
The qualifying criteria for the fund are:
- Have been a host of experiences for a year or more
- Have a verified identity
- Have lost a significant percentage and total $ amount of their earnings due to COVID-19
- Show a reliance on Airbnb as a vital source of income
But as you can imagine, the demand is much higher than the very limited pool of funds, so we have done our best to create a fair, objective process in order to prioritize and provide relief to those who have given the most to the community and demonstrated the most need. That process is:
- Hosts are invited via email to apply for the program. We have split the invitations to apply into 2 groups: “Spring” and “Summer” based on earnings lost between Feb-Apr and May-July.
- This decision to split the program into two parts is based on hosts’ feedback – we want to acknowledge the seasonal nature of many of your businesses. This is different from the Airbnb Homes team’s approach to the relief fund.
- Every Thursday, we sent out invitations to apply in cohorts of about 50 hosts. The last spring invitations went out on Thursday, May 21 and all awards should be administered by mid-June.
- Hosts in the summer round (that’s May-July) Summer grants will consist of 25-35% of grants, and will likely be invited to apply in August. And invitations may continue to be sent through September.
If you have not already heard from us, you will not be receiving an invitation to apply as a part of the Spring group. There is, however, still a chance of being included in the Summer group.
We put together specific criteria to make our approach more objective as we make difficult prioritization decisions:
- Host offered at least 150 instances on Airbnb between March 16, 2019 and March 15, 2020.
- Earnings have decreased more than 75% when compared to last year’s earnings during the same time period.
- Application responses to better understand how that decrease has affected their ability to make ends meet.
- Whether the host has made a significant contribution to the host community – for example: serving on host panels, or volunteering as the local Community Leader.
There have been a LOT of questions related to Online Experiences and the submission process. People are frustrated about the long wait times and not understanding why their submissions were rejected.
It’s a longer and much more difficult process to get published than for in-person experiences, with a much higher bar for quality. Ultimately we believe that will be a good thing for the long-term health of the marketplace, but recognize that in the immediate-term it has been a painful process for many of you.
Here is the current submission process:
- Step 1: Submission – Host submits experience idea
- Step 2: Vetting – the submission is evaluated on whether it meets quality standards
- Step 3: Prioritization – processing of the submission is prioritized based on supply needs
- Step 4: Scheduling Live Review – host is invited to schedule a live review of their online experience to ensure it meets quality and technical standards
- Step 5: Merchandising – photos and page content are reviewed
- Step 6: Publishing – experience is approved for publishing and the host sets up their Zoom account
It generally takes about 3-4 weeks from submission to publish, but that can be longer or shorter depending on a number of factors, including your responsiveness to messages from the team and prioritization based on supply needs.
Submissions are typically declined in either Step 2 during the Vetting stage or Step 4 during the Live Review. Catherine described the top reasons for declines in both.
The top reasons for declines in the quality evaluation stage, which is when you first submit the experience idea:
- The location is outdoors in a public space
- This is a safety reason due to shelter-in-place rules in many places in the world. We can not encourage folks to be breaking those requirements, and it’s difficult for us to know which hosts are allowed to be out and for what purpose versus where hosts are under stay at home orders. But we are actively monitoring the situation and as policies change and we bring back in-person experiences in certain regions, we are reevaluating our approach.
- For example: someone submitted an idea of a “foraging walk” where they would take you around their neighborhood and you could practice identifying plants together. So instead, one option would have been they could instead take you around their large garden or back yard which is private property.
- Another example: someone submitted a walking tour through Paris highlighting its Roman history. If instead the host wanted to conduct it virtually (as in showing photos and videos of the places), then that would be allowed. That style of delivery would just need to be made very clear in the description.
- Supplies either not listed or difficult to get
- This is based on one of our quality standards that Online Experiences be easy to do and “quarantine friendly” so there is not too much preparation required for guests to join and participate.
- For example, someone submitted a cooking experience but didn’t list any ingredients that guests would need to bring with them, so that was declined since it did not provide enough information.
- Another example is a submission that involved mailing the guests a kit with crafting supplies in advance. That submission was declined because it requires too much preparation before joining.
- Undefined activity or several options for guests to select
- There needs to be a clear activity to the experience, so that it is not simply a service that guests receive from you or so unstructured that it’s up to the guest’s preferences what happens.
- For example, someone submitted an idea where they would help you plan your trip to Korea.
- Remember: it’s ok to be ready to adapt to guest needs, but your experience should still follow a set plan. You can think of it as a performance. It’s ok to improvise some details, but overall you should know the beginning, middle, and end of the story.
- Use of Music
- If you plan to share music during your experience, it’s important to use your own songs or obtain the proper licenses and approvals to use other people’s music, otherwise it could violate copyright laws. You should be clear in your description whether the music is yours or whether you have the appropriate licenses and approvals.
- For example, we have received a couple of concert submissions where it’s not clear whether the musicians will be playing their own original music or cover songs that they do not have the appropriate licenses or permissions to use. Those submissions were declined.
- Lacking interaction
- Experiences must go beyond a lecture or a one-sided service. Guests are excited about Online Experiences because they provide moments of connection and interaction.
- Example: someone submitted a reiki distance healing experience but in the description it sounds like the guest will simply be receiving the healing coming from the host, like a service, and does not otherwise mention any moments of interaction for the guest to engage with the host on the subject.
The top reasons that experiences are declined at the live review stage, which is after the experience has passed the initial quality vetting and the host has been invited to conduct a 45-minute shortened version of the experience for a panel of Airbnb employees:
- Technical Difficulties: significant audio/video issues
- Example: A magician host was declined due to technical difficulties because his audio was so choppy that it disrupted the integrity of his magic show and guests were not able to follow along with what was happening.
- Run of Show: lack of preparation, no intro/closing/icebreaker, no structure
- Example: a history experience about Chile was declined because the host was talking at the group non-stop without break or any invitations to participate. There was no overview or structure, instead it felt like an unplanned lecture where the host was just talking at people without a clear direction.
- Core Quality Standards: falls short of demonstrating all three standards
- Expertise: Host can’t answer simple questions about their craft from guests during the experience, no stories connected to their craft and no explanation of background in the field.
- Access: Not quarantine friendly, was too hard for guests to obtain materials necessary to participate
- Connection: Lack of engagement with the guests, not allowing for participation or room for discussion, not making everyone feel welcomed.
- Example: a meditation host was declined because she launched straight into the meditation and that was it. She didn’t introduce herself or say anything about her background, so her expertise was not established. She also didn’t ask the guests a single question or invite them to engage at all, so there was no connection.
- Too Many Similar Experiences Already Published: too much of similar things so need to waitlist or put it on hold
- We want to maintain a healthy and balanced marketplace with diversity among hosts, time zones, categories, and activities.
- An example: a yoga class that is undifferentiated and is just a simple, straight-forward yoga class would likely get wait-listed. There are already a lot of other yoga offerings currently available, so anything in that same category would really need to be differentiated and unique in order to stand out.
- We consider very carefully the “supply mix” for online experiences and may decline a submission if it is too similar to other offerings. And we will prioritize submissions related to a recognized gap in supply that there is guest demand for.
There have been recent improvements to the submission process based on your feedback. We’re learning in this process along with you and we appreciate your patience with us as we build this rocket ship already in the air. Some of those changes include:
- Better communication and education throughout the process, such as in the submission flow and in the emails you receive at each stage, including how to prepare for the “live review” stage.
- You will now see more real examples and clearer guidance on do’s and don’ts for page sections like your title and photos.
- We have just recently launched including feedback within decline emails to explain where things fell short of our standards.
- We are also working on improvements to the very beginning of the submission process so that soon we will include clearer guidance on what are those top supply opportunities so you can understand what we are prioritizing at the moment, and what types may already be well-supplied.
- Better communication and education throughout the process, such as in the submission flow and in the emails you receive at each stage, including how to prepare for the “live review” stage.
In an answer to a common question heard from hosts, “If my offline is successful why can’t I just get on?” Catherine responded: hosting an online experience is DIFFERENT. It needs to be approached as such.
Some activities are better suited to working online than others, but no matter what the activity of your in-person experience is, you really need to consider your online offering in a new way. It’s not simply copy-and-pasting one into the other. That won’t work. The interaction you have with guests must be approached in a new way, and there are technical considerations that don’t exist for in-person experiences.
Catherine also summarized some of the characteristics we’re seeing among the most successful online experiences:
- Participatory and interactive
- Technical quality – good video, audio, internet connection, and comfort with Zoom as a platform.
- Value – there is a lot of competition with online content, many of which is free, so guests really want to feel that they are getting a “good deal” for what they are paying.
Catherine also clarified that Online Experiences are something that Airbnb is investing in for the long-term.
Online Experiences was an idea that came from you all during the Listening Sessions. We raced to build it as quickly as possible, within just two weeks, but there were a lot of considerations we didn’t think about when we started this process and we’re trying to learn from and accommodate those now.
Based on the early response from you and guests, it’s no longer a quick fix way to help us all during this uncertain time of COVID-19. It’s a product that can continue to resonate even once this lock-down period eases, and we believe they can co-exist with in-person experiences, and even be gateways to in-person experiences. They can help smooth seasonality fluctuations and provide increased accessibility to places and activities.
Catherine acknowledged that in-person experiences are going to be slow to build back up again, so online experiences are great for the medium to long-term, and that Airbnb is committed to resourcing them.
Reopening in-person experiences
The pause for in-person experiences for the majority of countries was recently extended through June 15th. This is not something we like doing, but we must absolutely prioritize the health and safety of our hosts and guests, so it is the necessary thing to do right now.
Catherine again shared the reopening framework used by Airbnb to assess whether it is safe to re-open a country again. It had previously been shared in the last Q&A:
Phase 0: Emergency: This means COVID-19 cases are growing, and local and national governments have mandated restrictions
Phase 1: Stabilization: The spread of disease is slowing and recovery looks imminent
Phase 2: Early-stage recovery: COVID cases are diminishing, people are recovering, and restrictions on travel and mobility are being removed.
Phase 3: Late-stage recovery: Stabilization remains steady and travel and mobility are further increased
Phase 4: Fully recovered: Marketplace is recovered and guests are permitted to safely travel internationally.
We want to reopen markets as quickly as possible — so long as it is safe and permissible to do so. How are we assessing safety?
- We are looking at infection rates, and want to make sure that they’ve stabilized for a period of time before reopening a country.
- We rely on Johns Hopkins University, a widely trusted, independent source, for COVID-19 global health data.
- That data is primarily available at the country level; therefore, we will make decisions to open Experiences mostly at the country level — except for the US, where our effort is to reopen at the state level.
Once infection rates have stabilized, we take into consideration whether other restrictions have been lifted, such as limits on group-size gatherings, and bans on non-essential businesses, like restaurants and bars.
On May 6th, we opened South Korea. We did so because it had met the criteria I just mentioned:
- Infection rates stabilized in late March, at which point we began closely monitoring the country for reopening.
- The government began lifting restrictions on non-essential businesses and social gatherings and in assessing these changes, we reopened the country.
We wanted to be especially careful with this re-opening, as it will provide us with a roadmap for the future.
Catherine then shared some of the other countries that we are considering for re-opening on June 15th, as long as the situation continues to remain stable:
- Austria, China, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Norway, Portugal, Switzerland, Vietnam [Updated from what was shared in the livestream]
In response to a question on whether we could open on a regional basis rather than on the country-level, Catherine replied that opening at the country level — as opposed to cities or regions — will help us minimize the possibility of reopening Experiences only to have to close again in the face of more localized second wave of infections that might force the government to reinstate the restrictions at a city/regional level. Even at a country level, we’ve seen this in Singapore, Japan, etc., which saw a resurgence of the cases after easing restrictions, and in response had to reimpose more stringent restrictions. We must balance between local government rulings and health official guidance (i.e. states vs. the WHO)
A question was asked whether outdoor experiences may be treated on a different timeline than indoors ones since they can potentially more easily accommodate social-distancing. Catherine responded that at this time, we’re re-opening markets on a country-level rather than category-level, but our team is continuing to monitor the situation and we are considering all options.
Please keep in mind that of course certain categories, or types of activities, will be better suited and be more appealing to guests in this new world. Outdoor experiences, for example, could be very well-positioned to be particularly popular. In preparation for the market reopening, all hosts, regardless of category, will be asked to adapt their experiences in order to accommodate social distancing more easily.
Catherine also clarified that our Host Cancellation Policy allows hosts to cancel penalty-free for “safety issues” in case you don’t feel comfortable or safe in hosting your experience. We don’t define exactly what those “safety issues” are: we want to give you the flexibility to tell us what you believe the safety issue is so that you can always prioritize the safety for yourself and your guests.
Hosts will be informed via email that their country or state is reopening at least seven days before.. Along with that announcement, Airbnb will also share safety and social distancing recommendations that we have put together based on guidance from the World Health Organization and the US Centers for Disease Control.
These resources will come in the form of articles on the Resource Center and webinars that will cover topics such as safety and hygiene and also attracting locals.
Catherine then also shared some data to support optimism regarding having a focus on local or domestic travelers in the near to medium term, as the reality is that international travel will be slower to rebound.
- 77% of travelers want personal vehicles to be their primary mode of travel transportation.
- 30% of travelers are open to a domestic trip in the next 1-3 months
- Currently ~77% of global bookings on Airbnb are within 500 miles (compared to ~52% in mid-January)
- In North America, we are seeing some markets outside of major cities have over 1.0x Y/Y growth (e.g., Catskills, Suffolk County, Poconos)
The schedule of more upcoming online events can be found here.
Hosts are also encouraged to follow a new global Instagram account intended to help experience hosts connect with each other around the world. The handle is: @airbnbexphosts.