This week we tuned into Skift’s Future of Lodging forum to learn more about the current hospitality landscape and what’s to come. Here are some key takeaways:

Airbnb has some pretty cool new features

An example of one of Airbnb’s “OMG” listings, located in Austin, Texas. Photo: Airbnb

Categories: Users can now browse listings by category — and right now there are more than 50 of them. They include camping, countryside, arctic, grand pianos and “OMG.” This follows Airbnb’s flexible dates feature, and is in line with the company’s goal of spreading travel.

“One of the reasons that we were so keen to launch flexible dates is because we can redistribute travel. What we are doing with the categories and with split stays is basically sending demand to where we have supply,” says Catherine Powell, Airbnb’s global head of hosting.

Users will also be able to browse categories within specific countries. The platform will use both machine learning and manual review to categorize the listings.

Split Stays: This feature shows up when you’re searching for a trip longer than a week and splits your trip between two homes. According to Airbnb, using this feature, guests can find an average of 40% more listings when searching for longer stays. This could also pave the way for the platform to get into itinerary planning.

“The moment we can intelligently pair two homes, we can eventually pair three homes or two homes and an experience or a home and an experience plus something else,” Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky told TechCrunch. “Then, we can give a user control. You can then start to integrate it with wishlist down the road. It really starts to become a true itinerary building app, which we’re not getting right now. But the technology exists.”

Air Cover for guests: Last year Airbnb launched Air Cover for hosts, which offers hosts $1 million in liability protection and $1 million in damage protection, with additional coverage for pet damage, deep cleaning, and more. Now the platform has announced an insurance policy for guests, which is included, free of charge, with each booking. It covers guests in the event that their host cancels within 30 days, finding them a similar or better home or issuing a refund. It offers the same recourse if there are issues during the check-in process. Worried about bookings being accurate? It covers that too, with a get-what-you-booked guarantee. If your stay doesn’t match the listing, you have three days to let Airbnb know, and it will find you somewhere new to stay or issue a refund. Lastly, the company introduced a 24-hour safety line.

Is luxury out?

Selina Nicaragua. Photo: @selina

According to Sam Khazary, senior vice president of global corporate development for Selina hospitality brand, guests these days care more about who they’re meeting than marble floors.

Our benchmark is, did you make a friend? And 67% of our guests made a friend. Staying in a fancy room is yesterday’s news. People still like that stuff, but for Gen Z and millennials, it’s about experience. And people are working while they travel. Covid has sort of accelerated this. We had digital nomad on our deck seven years ago when the company was founded and everyone used to laugh,” he says. “It’s wild, you walk into a place and there are people surfing in the morning, having some sort of wellness activity, having a smoothie or fruit bowl of some sort and then there’s just a bunch of people on MacBooks running around. I wasn’t a believer until I really saw it and understood the digital nomad thing. And you think of digital nomads being the younger generation, but I think it’s everyone now.”

Photo: Vojtech Bruzek

Hotels (obviously) want you to book direct. And they might start making you.

Booking direct is the most economically efficient way to go. The question is how you get your name out there. We as hotel owners we’re all just buying reservations. You can buy them via the Marriott channels, you can buy them via the OTA [online travel agency] channels, you can buy them by paying for direct marketing. And they come with varying costs and different risk profiles,” says Tyler Morse, chairman and CEO of MCR Hotels. “TWA Hotel we turned off the OTAs completely. The only way to book a room there is to go to the website, and we charge you up front in full for your booking. Why give away a free option if you don’t have to. The airlines don’t. When you book an airline ticket, you pay in full right then and they charge you $150 to change it. What a novel concept — why the hotel business gives away free options is kind of beyond me. Hotels need to take more risks. Turn off the OTAs and take a chance.”

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