Catherine Powell, Airbnb’s Global Hosting Manager, talks about the new winter release, accessible hosting and empathy in a new interview

In a press release issued Wednesday, San Francisco-based Airbnb announcement its winter 2022 release. There are a host of improvements, but the headlining feature is something the hotel company calls Airbnb Setup, which is described as an “all-new, super-easy way to Airbnb at home.” you”.

“Airbnb was born during a recession. Joe [Gebbia, a co-founder] and I couldn’t afford our rent, so we inflated three airbeds and started an AirBed & Breakfast. Soon people from all over the world joined us,” Airbnb co-founder and chief executive Brian Chesky said in a statement included in the press release. “Today, just like during the Great Recession in 2008, people are especially interested in earning extra income through hosting. That’s why we’re launching an easy way for millions of Airbnb people to come home With the Airbnb setup, every new host can get free personalized advice from a Superhost, from their first question to their first booking.And with even more AirCover for hosts, now’s the perfect time to put your place on Airbnb.

As Chesky mentions, Airbnb Setup allows new hosts to get free one-on-one consultations with so-called “Superhosts.” Additionally, the setup helps put new users more at ease by having their first rental booked by an “experienced” user who has more than three stays and a “good track record” with Airbnb. And when it comes to support, newbies have access to a dedicated team ready to help; users can access these special agents by phone, SMS or email in more than 42 languages.

A crucial part of Airbnb’s mission is to welcome and include people with disabilities. The company has been the subject of many covers in this column over the years; like their peers in the tech space, disability inclusion is as important to repeat as these seasonal releases. As disability rights advocates often say, accessibility is always green – it’s a journey, not an endpoint or a checkbox.

“We want our platform to be a place where all travelers can go and find what they need, and they can be welcomed by our guests in a way that makes them feel like they belong,” said Catherine Powell, Global Head of Accommodations at Airbnb. , in an interview with me on Zoom last week. “As we strive to become a more inclusive platform, it’s really important to us to have listings that meet the needs of the [disability] community that have different accessibility needs.

Powell joined Airbnb from Disney, where she oversaw Disneyland Paris. His empathy for the disability community stems from his interactions with people with disabilities visiting the Disney parks. Although Disney welcomes guests with mobility needs, Powell told me it was a complacency she received from an autistic woman that led to an epiphany. “I did a thorough audit with [disability] experts and walked the park, [looking] to all the different [sensory] aspects of sound, color and texture, to see what they might be susceptible to and how we could improve that,” she said. “I worked with my operations manager [to address the concerns]and we invited the guest [who complained] at the park.”

The experience was emotional not only for the guest, but also for Powell.

“I explained to him what we did and why. [we did] and how much I had learned. She was 30, and she burst into tears and told me that no one – no close friends, no family members – had taken the time to really understand what her life was like and the needs she had. Powell said of the guide. tour she gave to her guest after changes were made. “[She was] deeply grateful. It was a really important moment for me – to understand how much [being empathetic of the needs] guests with disabilities [is] and how important it is in the context of hospitality. [Being a great host] definitely start at the top [with leadership].”

Beyond the Airbnb setup, another notable announcement in Airbnb’s winter release is the addition of six new categories: New, Top of the World, Trending, Adapted, Play, and Hanoks. For the disability community, the Adapted category is the most relevant. Powell explained that homes in the Adapted section should have “step-free entrances” through the front door, bathroom and bedroom. They should also include another accessibility feature, such as grab bars in the shower.

These accommodations are visually verified through a partnership with a mapping company Matterport, specialized in three-dimensional scans of environments. “[They] walked in and scanned each home to make sure the features that [hosts] say they’re accurate, including the width of the hallways and the width of the entrance,” Powell said of Matterport’s work. “We took some of these images from the 3D scans, and that’s what you’ll see in the listings.”

The reason for Airbnb’s push for accessibility and disability inclusion stems from host feedback, Powell told me. Platform hosts are eager to make their homes more inclusive for people with disabilities. They want to make their space more accommodating and welcoming. Additionally, users with disabilities have always held Airbnb’s feet under proverbial fire by holding them accountable and making sure their actions match their words. “A lot of the work we’ve done was initially triggered by guests saying, ‘Hey Airbnb, you can’t advertise a house without steps for me to show up and it has steps,'” Powell said. “We know we haven’t provided the precision and built the trust with this community that we needed, so we spent a lot of time listening to guests [give their feedback].”

Accessibility support also extends to potential hosts. Anyone who wants to list their place on Airbnb has access to a plethora of software that makes creating their listing more accessible. Airbnb offers robust support for screen readers, as well as keyboard navigation of the Airbnb website and captions in videos. There’s even an option to give control of your account to a company guide, which will help you set up the list if doing it yourself is too overwhelming. This can be helpful for those with certain cognitive delays and/or those with fine motor issues where excessive tapping and clicking is too much of a pain.

Long term, Powell said Airbnb will “remain committed” to inclusivity.

“I think what we are capable of doing with our [Adapted] category launch is to show how important this is to meet customer needs. But second, how do you do it in a really inspiring way,” she said of Airbnb’s corporate ethos of accessibility. “When you see what’s in the category – and we’ve reviewed it with [disabled guests]- they are so amazed and moved when they see that there is suddenly a place they can go and browse and be inspired and know that each of these houses has guaranteed [for instance] Step-free access to bedroom and bathroom listings, among other assistive functions. We want to continue to lead the way and revolutionize travel for people with reduced mobility and make it really easier for them to find and book listings.

“I hope our accommodation [and] our Adapted category will be the showcase of [accessibility] for the rest of the travel industry,” added Powell.

Features from this year’s winter release are rolling out globally this week.

Comments are closed.