Although Airbnb suffered an 80% drop-off in bookings when the pandemic was declared last year, it eventually found a new class of customers in, among other groups, formerly deskbound workers—some with children studying online—all developing cabin fever as they toiled from home. Data soon showed people were booking longer stays.
Partially as a nod to remote workers, the company recently launched a flexible search feature that allows users to browse for accommodations without entering fixed dates, an acknowledgment of how much more fluid travel plans can be for many. Some are seeking to temporarily stay and work closer to extended family, or to escape the city for a spell, and the exact timing is almost irrelevant.
Now the company is expanding a try-before-you-buy program, partnering with existing incentive programs, such as Move to Michigan or Choose Topeka, whose raisons d’être are to lure people to relocate permanently in smaller cities and towns, whether as remote workers or to fill local openings. These initiatives offer would-be residents some combination of hard cash (from a few thousand to $12,000), tax breaks, and other perks, like $1,000 to spend at a local sandwich shop, as long as they commit to staying for a minimum number of years. Nine such organizations can now add Airbnb coupons to their bait, allowing prospective residents to stay in an Airbnb first to test out their environs. (Airbnb first piloted the idea with Remote Tulsa in February.)
Each program works slightly differently and will use the Airbnb coupons in varied ways. In some cases, customers will be eligible for the Airbnb subsidies only after they qualify for the relocation program and need to see what part of their new town might feel like home. Others might offer the coupons to people still toying with the idea of a move to, for example, Morgantown, West Virginia, or Auburn, Maine.
Airbnb is donating $15,000 to each local outfit. It’s not a huge investment for a firm now valued at $86 billion, but it does point to where the company sees travel going.
CEO Brian Chesky recently told Fast Company that he believes travel lust will no longer be focused on jam-packed highlights of the most well-trodden cities and instead will favor rural towns and national parks. “Trips are going to get longer, and traveling and living are going to gradually blur together, because in a world where many people can work from home, they can work from any home.” (Chesky apparently saw this shift coming, except he previously thought it would take a decade or two to happen.)
According to Marker, incentive programs from Vermont to Arizona have been predictably overrun by applications since working from anywhere became more feasible for a much larger percentage of US workers. But they’re not exactly redrawing the population map. Since launching three years ago, Tulsa Remote has recruited more than 600 people , 400 of them last year, and expects to relocate another 750 newcomers in 2021, per Marker. However, it has received 50,000 applications, which suggests the still modest post-pandemic interstate migration trend may have a long tail.
Airbnb research found that about 47% of Americans and 44% of global respondents in five countries would like to check out a place by living there for a brief spell before making the leap— which frankly makes us wonder about the 50% ready to decamp for a new town without doing any pre-move scouting.
Meanwhile, for the rejected applicants to “Remote Shoals” in Alabama, or “Finding Northwest Arkansas,” or those merely intrigued by the images of historic Main Streets and local hiking trails in the online brochures, Airbnb has made sure that its platform will be front of mind as an obvious Plan B.