2017-10-04 06:49:03
Q&A: Priority for Airbnb’s Brian Chesky: Social Responsibility

It’s been an especially busy few months for Brian Chesky, 36, the co-founder and chief executive of the home rental company Airbnb: in late September, he traveled from San Francisco, where he lives, to New York City to launch Experiences in the city, a service that allows travelers to book activities with Airbnb hosts in 40 destinations worldwide. A few days earlier, he introduced a partnership with the restaurant reservation app Resy, through which diners can reserve restaurants directly on Airbnb’s site.

In August and September, in the wake of hurricanes Harvey and Irma, Mr. Chesky activated the company’s disaster relief program, which provides free lodging to those displaced by natural disasters like hurricanes and forest fires; since the program started in 2012, with Hurricane Sandy, Airbnb has responded to 90 disasters.

And in early August, the company took a stance against white supremacists in Charlottesville, Va., by refusing to rent them accommodations in the city.

What’s next?

Mr. Chesky talked about recent developments at Airbnb when he visited The New York Times during his trip to New York (he stayed at an Airbnb apartment in Greenwich Village while he was in town).

Below are edited excerpts from the interview:

Q: With Experiences and the collaboration with Resy, Airbnb is branching out into different segments of the travel market. Why?

A: We started as a home-sharing website, but people travel to have experiences and take trips. We want to make sure your trips are amazing on Airbnb, and to be able to do that, we have to make travel easy. Easy means that you don’t have to spend dozens of hours using 10 different websites or apps to plan your trip. A few years ago, we decided that we wanted to be in the business of end-to-end trips. Last year, we added experiences and now we have restaurants.

In your goal to make Airbnb a one stop shop for travel, air is missing, but it is something you have teased in past interviews. Where do you stand with air today?

We are looking at aviation, but it is an industry that’s not really differentiated. We’ve been thinking about whether we can do something that can redefine the industry, maybe not completely but in a small way, and if we can’t do that, we should be careful about participating in it. So we’re thinking about air, but there’s nothing to announce yet.

Perhaps in a bid to compete with Airbnb, the hotel industry is recognizing that travelers want accommodations with a more local feel and are trying to offer this to their guests. What are your thoughts on this?

I don’t think that it’s a bad thing if hotels are trying to be more local. I visited Arne Sorenson [the chief executive of Marriott International] a few years ago in his offices, and he showed me how they were designing rooms which looked like homes and apartments. The war with [Airbnb and] hotels that’s been described in the media is inconsistent with the relationship we have with the industry. For example, there’s about five or six major hotel C.E.O.’s, and we’re pretty friendly with them and share notes.

Airbnb has started advising its home hosts to adhere to some hospitality standards. Why?

On one hand, we don’t want to be prescriptive. On the other hand, if you never know what you’re going to get, then that product will never become mainstream, and people will never love it. There are some basic hospitality standards we’re trying to impose — everything should be clean, for example — but beyond that, we don’t want to impose décor or things that would affect the local feel.

Your brand has gotten to the point where it is now seen as a responsible corporate citizen — responding to disasters and not renting to white supremacists in Charlottesville. How do you balance being a company that is driven by individuals and local culture with trying to be a force for good?

It’s tricky. You’re always going to have your own values, but at the root of Airbnb is this idea of acceptance, and anyone who doesn’t make people feel accepted, in particular because of the country or culture they’re from, what they look like, what their orientations are and who they worship, are things that we can’t stand for. Last year, we introduced our community commitment where we made 200 million people attest that they won’t discriminate. We’re generally not taking political positions except when it violates this commitment, and we felt that white nationalism definitely qualified.

With disasters, we thought about what asset we had that could help the world, and we happen to have four million homes. The people that provide those homes are generally kind and generous. We started with Hurricane Sandy when a host contacted us and said that she wanted to host people impacted by the storm [for free]. Since then, our community has donated 11,000 nights for people who have been displaced by disasters.