Rafat Ali (L) and Brian Chesky (R). Photo: @skiftnews

Brian Chesky sat down with Rafat Ali, founder of Skift, at the travel news company’s annual Skift Forum last week, a global conference focused on the business of travel. Here’s what he had to say:
The travel industry is about to experience a revolution

“Before the pandemic we used to live in one place, we called that our house; we went to another place to work, called that the office and we traveled to a third place. And what the pandemic did is it forced us all to do all three activities in one place. And that place with Zoom … could suddenly be anywhere,” Chesky said. “The bigger part of the revolution is [the] length of stay is going to increase and it’s going to blur with living.

He added that the ability to have mobility and flexibility will be second to compensation when people are searching for new jobs, and employers should keep that in mind. Those who require their staff to work from the office five days a week are going to struggle to retain and attract top talent.

The issue of affordable housing

While Chesky considers affordable housing a major issue, he said technological advances and the change in workplace culture could alleviate it to some extent. People are now able to migrate to where affordable housing is. And that gives people a certain amount of leverage.

The mayor of an unnamed big city recently asked Chesky for advice in response to many people moving out. Here’s the advice he said he gave, “Before the pandemic, most of the people in your city felt like they had to live in your city to work. Now, they’re like customers … and you have to compete with them like every other city has to. They have a choice, and that’s the major difference now. Mayors should think of their citizens as customers who have choices.

The two greatest challenges of our time

Climate change is a given, but what Chesky considers of equal significance is what he calls the crisis of loneliness.

“I think so much division, hate, depression, anxiety, so many of these problems are problems of loneliness and I think if we weren’t already in a crisis of loneliness before the pandemic, we are absolutely now in a crisis of loneliness,” he said.

The pandemic removed many physical spaces where interaction occurred. People work and shop at home in front of their computer screens. That presents great opportunities for travel and freedom, but also runs the risk that some people get left behind.

“I think designing for new ways to bring people together in the physical world is going to be critical,” Chesky said. “My optimistic view is that suddenly travel is going to be much more about friendship, connection, bringing people together.”

Technology isn’t inherently good. Or evil.

When Chesky first entered the Silicon Valley world in 2007, it was a different time. Technology, he said, was synonymous with words like “good” and “progress.”

“YouTube was for cat videos and Facebook was to see what your friends are doing and Twitter was a way to say, ‘I’m drinking a milkshake,’ ” he said. “It all seemed wonderful and innocent.”

Companies learned the hard way that when hundreds of millions of people are using a product, it will inevitably be used for unintended consequences, requiring those companies to accept more responsibility for their product.

“I think all of us have to design [with] multiple stakeholders in mind, not just investors, but customers and communities,” Chesky said.

The playing field will be leveled.

The Times Squares and other mass tourism sites of the world will no longer be getting all of the attention, as travelers more frequently turn to smaller cities, rural communities and national parks. Airbnb also has the ability to influence this, as Chesky said 40% of people who come to Airbnb’s platform either don’t have a destination or date range in mind.

“What this means is we have the ability to point demand to where we have supply. And the holy grail of overtourism is travel redistribution,” Chesky said. “I think going forward, we’re going to be in the business of inspiration. We’re going to be in the business of pointing demand to where we have supply, inspiring people about different communities around the world, and I think it’s going to level the playing field, not just for cities and communities, but for hosts.”

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