AirBnb CEO Brian Chesky had an interview with Bloomberg two days ago. First of all, I think Brian seemed very real and genuine in this interview. Watching him speak didn’t give me a sense that he was a robot reading script or a politician giving all kinds of lip services or false hope. For example, he admitted to being unfocused in the past, working on too many things at AirBnb at the same time. He also publicly committed to publishing data on diversity at AirBnb one year from now. That kind of genuineness and down-to-Earth attitude are refreshing to see. He talked about his commitment to diversity & equality, how he thinks about IPO this year, what mistake he made while running AirBnb, Online Experience, how Covid-19 changed travel behavior and so on. But I will only discuss two topics as follows:
How Covid-19 changed travel
While many people said that travel pre-Covid as we knew it is forever gone and we will never see it again, I am much less certain on that. Humans are quick to forget. Once we have the vaccine or have this virus under control, no matter how many years that will take, I think we can get back to where we were travel-behavior-wise. Things tend to be cyclical, you know. Nonetheless, Brian talked about what he has seen in terms of behavioral changes of travelers:
Business travel will take a lot longer to recover
EU has recovered solidly from the pandemic. Asia started the recovery path. Latin America hasn’t recovered much. He said that the US “has been really really strong” and it “has seen a temporary recovery”. I am not quite sure how to think about it. The US has repeatedly seen a new high on the number of cases in a day for quite a while now. Even if a portion of the population traveled, what would that do to the full recovery? Would take delay the recovery much longer?
Less interest in travel to urban areas with dense population and in cross-border travel
Travel will be more local
For the foreseeable future, there will be major changes in how businesses operate in the tourism industry. Attractions will have to take into account social distancing when designing tours. Travel agencies will have to arrange transportation for small groups only and avoid trips to crowded places. Hotels or AirBnb hosts will have to increase the hygiene level and how to communicate that to travelers.
If you look at countries whose tourism plays a huge part in the overall economy such as France or Italy, they were decimated by the pandemic. However, they have recovered since and started to take on tourists. The picture is very different for the US. Not only does nobody want to travel here at this time, unless they absolutely have to, but the people living here are now banned from visiting Europe. The lack of commitment to take on short-term losses for future prospects and, by extension, the absolutely atrocious handling of this pandemic are setting this country back months in recovery and perhaps even longer for the US tourism industry.
AirBnb launched Online Experiences in April 2020 due to the pandemic. The service allows hosts to craft a unique experience online for a small group of guests. After reservations are confirmed, guests receive a Zoom invitation through which they can live participate in the Experience. For instance, you can book to learn how to cook with this Michelin chef from Italy in a live stream session along with 9 other people around the globe without leaving your home. All you need to do is to make a reservation, prepare ingredients beforehand and join the Zoom session.
Brian Chesky said that it is the fastest growing product of AirBnb, even though he didn’t specify whether it’s the fastest growing product ever or it’s just during the pandemic. He did reveal that the service has had 400 Experiences listed so far and generated $1 million in bookings.
AirBnb is quick to improvise and pivot during this pandemic that severely affects travel. I can see some value in this service. Firstly, for folks who feel lonely during this crisis (and there are a lot of them), this is a great and inexpensive way to meet new people and learn something useful without enduring more risks. The live stream format is key because if this were an on-demand video clip like what we have with streamers like Netflix, it wouldn’t work. There needs to be a real and tailored human interaction. That’s why I think it makes sense to limit the number of participants to maximize the interaction with each person.
Secondly, take Vietnam as an example. Our borders have been closed for months. Hosts can take advantage of this opportunity to offer local tours or experiences and gain revenue that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise.
Regarding the future prospect of this service, I am not convinced yet. Covid-19 necessitates online interaction. However, when this blows over, though it may take some time, how much will people still prefer online interaction and how much time will they have for these experiences? There are many other services that can offer similar online lessons. Once people are free to leave home, they no longer need some strangers on the Internet to bond with to alleviate the loneliness as there are countless distractions. I don’t have any data, but that $1 million bookings in 3 months globally seems a bit soft. Furthermore, the live stream nature and the small group requirement of this service don’t necessarily let host scale their revenue. They are constrained by their time, being the presenter physically and the number of participants. Hence, I suspect that revenue from Online Experiences may just shift to Experiences post-Covid.
In sum, it will be interesting to see what the future holds for the tourism industry and AirBnb, in particular. The pandemic threw its plan to go public in the trash bin and significantly altered its business. If you are interested in the company, have a listen to Brian’s talk. Once again, I really like his down-to-Earth tone and genuineness.
IEEE has an article outlining the role of mainframes even before the crisis. I am always of opinion that mainframes aren’t going anywhere soon. The legacy system has its strengths that work in favor for data-processing companies such as financial institutions. I had a professor in Omaha before who was an executive at Mutual of Omaha. He told me in 2018 that one of the important applications at the insurance company is still on mainframe and they fly periodically a mainframe developer from Chicago for maintenance work.
In the last 70 years, the physical size of Kansas City has quadrupled while the population has remained relatively stable. (Put another way, every resident of Kansas City is on the hook for maintaining four times as much of the city as his or her predecessors.)
A damning report on Bird. I haven’t been a fan of the company or products. I get its value proposition, but coming from a country where scooters are the primary transportation method, I am as enthusiastic about Bird scooters as others. Plus, the high valuation in a short period of time, despite an unproven unit economics, always feels wrong to me.
I am not a fan of the tipping culture here in the US as I wrote about it before. I find the pricing practice in the hospitality in the US equally annoying.
I was trying to book a place in Chicago for an upcoming trip. Here is how a room’s price looks on AirBnb:
The initial listed price you see is just 66% of the final price you pay. All the fees make up 33% of the final bill. Wonder what it’s like on OTAs such as Booking.com?
After everything is added, the final price is 25% higher than the advertised price. Resort fees are basically what hotels charge you for the use of amenities and facilities on top of the base room. Think of it this way, instead of pricing everything (base room + facilities) together, hotels break them out in order to charge more. It’s worth noting that not every hotel charges resort fees.
I am not saying that the properties have to eat up the taxes themselves. Nonetheless, I would feel more comfortable if they could just advertise the final prices, including everything. The prices will be higher, but so will be the competitors. So relatively speaking, there won’t be any loss of pricing appeal, but the consumers such as myself won’t feel deceived.
Charlie Munger, Unplugged. I try to read as much as possible about Charlie Munger. This is a great interview with him. The part I like most about the interview is when Charlie talked about how he read till he slept.
In News Industry, a Stark Divide Between Haves and Have-Nots. An insightful and fascinating piece on the struggle of newspapers as a whole to generate digital revenue to offset the loss in ads dollars. Only a few exceptions and the Big Three (WSJ, The Times and The Post) seem to have managed reasonably well.
Uber Wants to Be the Uber of Everything—But Can It Make a Profit? The “we are going to be the Amazon of transportation” narrative will be used a lot ahead of Uber’s IPO. I can see some value in that, but frankly, I don’t believe that is the case at the moment. The level of competition that Amazon had to face back in the day and Uber has to face now is likely different. I doubt Amazon faced a lot of legal challenges as Uber has had up to now. Plus, the economics of the two companies aren’t the same. Look at the chart below and see if there is any similarity between the two
Ilargi: Renewables Are Dead. I find renewables polarizing as a subject. There are fans on each side of the argument. No matter what, I guess if we hadn’t tried, we wouldn’t have known what we know now.
New Data: The Airbnb Advantage. According to AirBnb, New York, London and Paris make up less than 3% of its total listings and no city makes up more than 1% of the listings.
The bitter truth behind the Nutella economy. If you care about the ethical aspect of business, you may want to read about this. I understand that there are a lot of products or services that we use everyday come from organizations with a record of questionable ethical practices. However, given that Nutella is pretty popular around the world and in America, you may want to know a bit more about it. And it’s not good for your health!
IHG Sees Room for Improvement in Hotel Revenue Management. The article discusses mainly the attribute-based booking trend in the hospitality industry. Attribute-based booking refers to the model that allows guests to choose from a room level such as number of beds, view and room type to amenities inside the room. Everything is a la carte. It can create the maximum personalization and excitement for guests, but it will require a totally different operations from inventory, marketing to housekeeping and revenue management.
The 2019 Drunk Shopping Census. An interesting piece on drunk folks’ purchase behavior. It must be tough for one to recall back the purchases made when drunk when one participates in the survey. The folks at The Hustle are good with words and sometimes have pretty good content. Give them a follow if you want daily email with overview of what happens in business and tech.
AirPods. I totally agree with the author of this post. AirPods are truly a massive success. Since I bought them last May, I have used them at least 6-7 hours a day every day. Sometimes, I don’t even feel that they are in my ears. Convenience goes up significantly. The sound may be not as good as power users of wireless headphones would want, but it is good enough for average users like myself. The design is just right. You can exercise without worrying about losing them. (Follow Horace Deliu if you are a fan of micro-mobility and Apple)
The Big Brexit Short. I really like this kind of investigative videos by Bloomberg. I honestly don’t follow Brexit enough. Hence, it’s good to know about this potential scheme. I highly recommend you check out Bloomberg’s Youtube channel. Treasure trove of good information.
What the hell is going on. A very long, yet informative study on how the switch from information scarcity to information abundance affects business, education and politics.
Inside AirBnb’s “Guerrilla War” against Local Governments. A very good article on how AirBnb fought local governments in the US to avoid taxes and restrictions that the local lawmakers sought to put on them. I am a believer in the fact that if the law allows you to avoid taxes, you have every right to not pay taxes and stay competitive. However, fighting hard to stop new laws (laws always play catch-up with the business world) intended to make AirBnb pay taxes is a bit too far. Loss of taxes strips a local government of necessary revenue to fund projects that will benefit citizens. If your business earns millions of dollars in revenue and profit, what’s the reason for not paying taxes? Simply by “being a platform”?