Photograph: Russell Hart/Alamy
Airbnb is returning to its roots, the company announced, with a renewed focus on renting single rooms to travelers concerned about the rising cost of living.
Called Airbnb Rooms, the short-term rental app will roll out a series of features designed to encourage travelers to consider renting a single room in a home to save money and enjoy new experiences on the go.
Travelers will be able to specifically search for private rooms and see how much they’d save by renting an entire apartment or house, and a new set of filters lets them see only rooms with private bathrooms. The company will also report which private rooms do not have internal or external locks, allowing guests to ensure they have a minimum level of privacy before booking.
“One of the things that we know that’s on people’s minds is inflation and the possibility of a recession,” said Nate Blecharczyk, the company’s co-founder. “And so money really does matter. We think that Private Rooms is a very interesting value proposition and that the time has come to rediscover and relaunch this category”.
The average price for an Airbnb room in the UK is £59 a night, says Blecharczyk, and globally, more than 80% of stays in private rooms cost less than $100 (£80) a night.
“Airbnb has something for everyone — every price range, every location, every configuration,” he added. “Now you can toggle between searching for rooms of houses, you can see how drastically the value proposition changes. It’s very clear.
The change in focus marks a return to basics for the company, which began in 2007 when roommates Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia began renting space on air mattresses in their San Francisco living room. Blecharczyk joined in 2008 as the one-room B&B grew into a full-fledged venture, offering to match people who needed a hotel room with those who had a room left and needed the extra cash. By 2009, it had expanded from airbeds and shared spaces to full properties, which gradually came to dominate the listings on the platform.
In addition to launching private rooms, Airbnb is also releasing a number of features to address viral criticism of the service’s rental checkout experience. In late 2022, social media users shared experiences and jokes about being asked to perform increasingly ridiculous tasks by their guests, from vacuuming carpets to walking the dog, as part of their checkout routine.
Though many of the jokes were fanciful, Chesky accepted the basis of the criticism in November, write: “You shouldn’t perform unreasonable cashier duties, such as stripping beds, doing laundry, or vacuuming.
“But we think it makes sense to turn off the lights, throw food in the trash and lock the doors, just like you would when you leave the house.”
Now, Airbnb will channel hosts’ requests through a more standard set of checkboxes, making it easier for them to request common checkout actions like putting the bins out or returning the keys, and discouraging them from adding more esoteric requests.
Those rules, said a spokesperson, would “clearly appear on the listing page before a guest books a listing. Guests are also reminded of the listing checkout instructions the day before departure, and listings with repeated low ratings due to unreasonable work will be removed from Airbnb.
The return to the promotion of private rooms could also help Airbnb address criticism about its wider impact on cities and tourist hotspots around the world. As whole-home rentals soar, the company has found itself at the center of wrangling over gentrification, overtourism and housing shortages, with residents of popular tourist destinations accusing landlords of taking homes off the market of rentals to profit from tourists Instead.
Unveiling plans to amend the holiday rental law, requiring landlords across England to obtain planning permission to turn their homes into short-term lets, the housing secretary, Michael Gove, said: “I am determined to ensure that more people have access to affordable housing and that we prioritize families desperate to rent or buy their own home near where they work.”
In response to a Welsh Government consultation last month, Airbnb cited research that found that tourists who used the site contributed £107m to the Welsh economy in 2019, the equivalent of 0.2% of the Gross Inland Wales. The company backed plans for a registration scheme for short-stay owners, arguing the requirement would help address a “lack of accurate data” on the effects of the platform within specific communities in Wales.