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Learning from leaders who implement Agile well: AirBnB

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Founded in 2008 by three college schoolmates, AirBnB has changed the world of travel by providing travellers with cheaper short-term alternatives to hotels and property owners with extra income streams from renting out spare rooms and houses. As of March 2022, there are over 6 million active listings and over 1 billion guest arrivals on the platform. Not bad for a company that started with just 2 bookings!

Yet, AirBnB’s business model has been controversial with its negative impacts on local housing markets, particularly in areas with limited housing supply. Nor does AirBnB seem to brighten the overall economic prospects of an area. A 2019 study by the Economic Policy Institute found the exact opposite to be true, with AirBnB exacting more in economic costs from local communities than the profits it brings. In recent years, some travellers have also been the victims of serious crimes on properties rented through Airbnb.

These costs and issues should not be discounted, and Airbnb has been rolling out measures to address some of them. From enforcing a global party ban to rolling out a portal to help local governments enforce responsible house sharing, the company has taken some steps toward addressing these problems. This iterative approach to improving user experiences makes them a useful case study in Agile methods and project management, particularly when they pivoted effectively during and after the pandemic to meet evolving user needs. Here are four takeaways from AirBnB’s responses to change during an unprecedented time.

Four takeaways from AirBnB’s product strategy

1. Tap into existing resources to offer new products

When the pandemic shut down travel, Airbnb realised that both its user groups (hosts and travellers) had needs that could be met by each other. While travellers craved the connection and thrill of new experiences, hosts needed some way to earn income amid ongoing travel restrictions.

With its existing booking platform and Airbnb Experiences product (launched in 2016), Airbnb hardly needed to reinvent the wheel when they launched Online Experiences in April 2020, enabling people to book virtual experiences with various hosts. The company capitalised on the improved quality of video conferencing tools and people’s increased familiarity with video conferencing to tap into a new market.
The wide variety of experiences (cooking, concerts etc) at various price points meant there was something for everyone. Earnings for hosts in the first month of the launch were impressive, with top earners reporting incomes of over $20K and one host even claiming earnings of $150k in a month. Although it was launched as a pandemic product, Online Experiences continue to stay relevant even in a post-pandemic world, providing an avenue for remote friends, family, and colleagues to connect with one another.

Source: AirBnB

2. Improve the user experience by helping users find and send information quickly

In 2021, AirBnB did an overhaul of its website in response to changing travel and remote work trends that saw longer-term stays in local destinations. Of its over 100 changes, the most notable addition was a flexible search option. Users could now search with flexible dates, matches, and locations, enabling them to see a greater variety of options compared to a traditional search. And with over 500 million searches conducted using flexible search and a sharp spike in the number of unique listings people were adding to their wishlists, the feature appears to be a big hit with users.

Source: AirBnB

Nor were travellers the only beneficiaries of these updates. Airbnb also made it easier for hosts to join the platform, with machine learning integrations that would make hosting easier. After hosts had joined, they could also look forward to new features such as Personalized Quick Replies and Scheduled Messages that streamlined the process of responding to frequently asked questions and sending instructions for check-in and check-out.

3. Repackage existing products to meet new user needs

AirBnB’s value proposition went beyond being a cheap alternative to hotels. Part of the thrill of renting an Airbnb was staying in a place other than a conventional hotel, meaning that houses could become travel destinations in and of themselves. Airbnb cleverly took advantage of this sentiment in its upgrades for summer 2022, creating 55 categories of homes that provided innovative and fun ways for users to find their next travel accommodation.

Source: AirBnB

4. Seek user feedback to re-examine existing policies

While this takeaway isn’t unique to a pandemic context, it bears repeating as an example of the value of UX research for businesses. In August 2020, Airbnb placed a temporary ban on parties both out of public health concerns and in a bid to prevent disruptive parties in the community.

A 44% year-over-year drop in the rate of party reports indicated that the ban was achieving desired outcomes, and this has prompted AirBnB to codify the ban. At the same time, it has also released a 16-person cap initially imposed at the start of Covid after getting feedback from hosts with large properties capable of hosting more guests.

Codified bans require enforcement and AirBnB has done so by banning guests who have violated policies. Additionally, they have also enacted special holiday anti-party measures by disallowing guests without any positive reviews from making one-night or two-night bookings on the eve of holidays.

How does Airbnb get reviews on a guest? Hosts are invited to review guests and these reviews are in turn “repurposed” to encourage guests to review their host and accommodation. The feedback loop helps improve the overall experience for travellers and hosts, by providing the former with information on how a stay was and the latter with information on whether a guest can be trusted.

Source: AirBnB


Airbnb is a prime example of how a business can quickly respond to changes by adapting its existing business model to capitalise on existing market trends and user needs. Like Irene’s product management team, which helped the business reposition its products to meet new demands for data security, AirBnB quickly pivoted to offering products that helped users accomplish a core goal – having new experiences. With its combination of innovative offerings and site redesigns, AirBnB has emerged from the Covid storm with impressive financial results and a foothold in the growing market of long-term domestic stays, one that can be expected to grow with the rise of remote work.

Interested in learning more about product management, but short on time? We offer a beginner-friendly and virtual 1-day product management course designed to give individuals an overview of concepts and resources used by other practitioners in the industry.

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CuriousCore offers mid-career professionals specialized and career accelerator courses and we also provide practitioner-led masterclasses and consultations for organisations to improve their customer experience strategy and business growth.