Airbnb eyes relevance with push to become ‘more than just stays’

Having built its marketing strategy around brand building since 2021, Airbnb is moving into new categories in a bid to become a hub for experiences, not just overnight stays. 

Source: Airbnb, Ryan Lowry

Airbnb’s journey to become a business built on brand marketing is well documented. The firm stopped putting most of its marketing spend into performance channels in favour of brand building in 2021 and has since reaped the rewards.

At a flagship event in Los Angeles yesterday (1 May), Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky laid out what’s next for the brand: experiences.

The travel firm has launched a product enhancement allowing users to collaborate closely with friends and family when booking trips on the app, alongside an experiential push with Icons.

The new Icons product is an extension of what Airbnb has been doing from an experience perspective in recent years. Last summer, it added the Barbie Dreamhouse to its listings, allowing fans to enter a ballot to win a free overnight stay in collaboration with the Margot Robbie-fronted film. 

Now, anyone can enter to win experiences in the floating house from Disney Pixar’s 2009 film ‘Up’, an intimate gig with comedian Kevin Hart and access to the house from Prince’s Purple Rain video, to name just three of the 11 initial custom built Airbnb Icons. 

Indeed, the brand has even turned Paris’s Musée d’Orsay into an Airbnb for someone to stay in during this summer’s Olympic Opening Ceremony. 

These large scale stunts were a decade in the making, says Chesky, and represent the direction Airbnb is moving towards for the future. 

New north star

The Musée d’Orsay is becoming an Airbnb ‘Icon’. Source: Airbnb, Frederik Vercruysse

Airbnb will be hosting Icons “on a regular basis”, the firm’s global head of marketing Hiroki Asai tells Marketing Week at the event in LA.

“As culture changes and things happen, we can invite different Icons onto the platform, so we can be top of mind a lot more during the year,” he explains.

“It’s really pointing us in a direction of where the future of Airbnb [is]. Where it’s something more than just stays.” 

Icons is a big budget affair, with Asai measuring its success in terms of awareness and traffic. He explains previous experiences like the Barbie DreamHouse led to 4.7 million page views for the brand “without any marketing, without living on the homepage at all.” 

“We’re pretty confident that this is going to reach whole new audiences,” he says.

Included in the list of Icons is an overnight stay at the house of Bollywood star Janhvi Kapoor in Chennai, India. A “really important market” for Airbnb, India is recording growth of 30% year-on-year. 

“The most important thing for us right now is migrating people to imagining Airbnb being, but stays and experiences as well,” adds Asai. “Icons are clearly these unbelievable experiences that we’re using as the North Star for what the platform could be.” 

Marketing Week will be taking a deeper dive into Airbnb’s marketing strategy and growth plans in an upcoming feature with global head of marketing Hiroki Asai and vice-president for global marketing, Nancy King.