SAN FRANCISCO – Airbnb on Tuesday unveiled new initiatives designed to give a louder voice to the group that keeps the startup in business — the landlords renting their homes through the online platform.
Addressing a group of 50 landlords at the company’s San Francisco headquarters, Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky promised to open some company board meetings to landlords, hold quarterly Q&A sessions over Facebook Live, create a “Host Advisory Council” and send periodic email updates.
“There is going to be a new commitment to listening so we can learn what you want and continue to do new things for you,” Chesky told the group of landlords, many of whom were from San Francisco.
Chesky’s differentiated Airbnb from other tech companies, portraying the $30 billion startup as a community of landlords and guests rather than a profit-driven machine. He also emphasized that unlike other companies that are gearing up to use artificial intelligence to replace workers, Airbnb always will be built around humans.
Chris Lehane, head of global policy and public affairs, also acknowledged another reason Airbnb may want to keep its landlords happy — they play a key role in the company’s efforts to lobby local governments and fight the “historic power of the hotel industry.”
Chesky said Tuesday he will add “head of community” to his CEO title, which he called an “expansion of accountability” — meaning he intends to be just as accountable to his landlord community as he is to his employees. He said he planned to kick off a world tour Tuesday afternoon to meet hosts from different countries and hear their feedback, hitting cities including London, New York, Delhi and Cape Town.
In addition, Airbnb on Tuesday launched its Host Advisory Council, a group created to bring landlord feedback directly to the company’s leaders. Chesky promised to bring landlords from that group to one Airbnb board meeting a year, giving them an opportunity to voice concerns to the company’s investors.
“I want to make sure that when we’re making a decision that affects the community,” Chesky said, “that we’re doing it for the community, not to the community.”
To some Airbnb hosts, the move is an attempt to fix a broken communication chain between Airbnb’s landlords and its management.
“They’re terrible at receiving feedback and implementing meaningful change,” said 48-year-old Adrian Santos, who rents three rooms in his San Francisco apartment on the Airbnb platform.
Santos would like to see the company improve the way its algorithms calculate the best price for a listing, and the way they track how much money landlords make and how often they rent their rooms.
Alex Nigg, who rents his San Francisco home on Airbnb when he’s out of town, called the new initiatives an “excellent idea.”
“The hosts are the lifeblood of the company,” said Nigg, who also founded Properly, a startup that helps Airbnb hosts schedule cleanings between rentals. “And ultimately we are the face of the company. So I think it’s really critical for Airbnb to hear the voice of the hosts loudly.”