Airbnb turns to creatives to inspire its brand of local tourism beyond the ‘main commercial corridors’

Airbnb is taking part in this year's Do it Day.

If a movement is a community on the move, then one of Airbnb’s ongoing challenges is how it can support communities that move and act at scale.

It doesn’t sound too taxing for a business that had 80,000 members create their own versions of its logo but even the most community-driven brands need outside help sometimes. Particularly, when in the case of Airbnb it wants to enhance its standing in local communities in a way that goes beyond the “main commercial corridors” of the tourism space. If it can help its hosts build up their neighbourhoods as travel destinations, then residents and local businesses can benefit more from the rise of home-sharing.

Supporting local communities is not an alien concept to the brand, which claims “Airbnb travellers spend more time in local neighbourhoods”, and yet it thinks there’s even more potential in its local presence. Unlocking that potential will rest on its ability to galvanise a community of creatives rather than its hosts over the course of two separate days – The Drum's Plan it Day tomorrow and Do it Day on 10 November.

On the first day, the business will be briefing, advising and judging potential ideas to its conundrum before settling on one it will bring to life in a day at Do It Day. Aware it’s attempting something that’s never been done before, Airbnb wants the ideas to riff on a toolkit it could give to hosts to help them turn their neighbourhoods into a must-visit holiday destination in an authentic, sustainable way that "drives benefit for locals". While the teams will effectively be given carte blanche to fill the tourism arsenal with whatever they see fit, their ideas should be global enough to be scaled and reproduced anywhere but local enough to have an impact.

“There are many ways to approach this but a project like Do It Day is a fantastic way to tap into some incredible talent and see a burst of new ideas that can make a difference,” says Jeanne Salvanès, the Airbnb brand marketer who is leading the challenge.

While it may seem like a lofty goal, there’s proof that Airbnb is already having this type of impact in communities. In February, the booking site launched a report that showed how suburban boroughs are trending destinations for Airbnb guests, growing faster than those in city centre boroughs. This behavioural shift is having a “positive impact on local businesses, communities and cultural attractions outside the city centre,” and of course building the local economy,” explains Salvanès.

“We’re excited to hear how we can approach this concept in a different way and look forward to the results of what this day can bring,” she continues. “We hope to see some ideas that will help us highlight to our hosts the long-term, positive impact they are having in their local areas, and empower them to grow this even more.”

Her comments somewhat illuminate the unique challenges the business has compared to the other Do it Day brands. For Airbnb is a brand that’s gone from homesharing cool to commercial giant, and is having to address all the opportunities and obstacles that come with a business model dependent on local authorities allowing it t operate outside of the laws that control hotels. A quick online search for the brand throws up a myriad of investigations, surveys and interviews, tackling everything from its pioneering role in the sharing economy to the negative impact it could be having on housing prices the world over. Social awareness and independence might be core pillars of the Airbnb brand but there’s no denying that high profit landlords and third-party management companies are undermining those principles.

All the controversy around its impact on social mobility hasn’t been enough to dent Airbnb’s popularity with users across the 34,000 cities and 191 countries. Part of that goodwill stems from the fact that it has allowed cash-strapped hosts to generate some additional income; indeed, more than half (52 per cent) of its hosts have a low to moderate income, according to the business, and 53 per cent say that hosting helped them stay in their home, with nearly five in ten (48 per cent) use the money to help pay for regular household expenses like rent or food.

It’s clear then why the brand is insistent it has a social impact across everything it does. In fact, “it would be impossible for any [Do it Day] challenge we thought of to separate itself from this,” explains Salvanès. That’s not to say Do it Day is a riposte to some of the criticisms of the brand. The team have been clear from the outset that the project creates a movement for positive change in the world – albeit one that has the potential to earn it swathes of goodwill at a tricky time.

Like many sharing economy businesses, Airbnb stands apart from many traditional brands because it is made up of everyday people. Those Plan it Day ideas that embrace this diversity will be what pique the interest of Salvanès and her colleagues, and more importantly work on the scale they’re intending on Do it Day. This is easier said than done and so the business advises creatives focus on three specific demographics: Freelance Creatives, Digital Nomads and Empty Nesters. More details of these groups will be available on Plan it Day.

“Given the diversity of neighbourhoods everywhere, thinking up an idea that any host or community of hosts, anywhere in the world, could utilise and implement easily is likely to be an obvious challenge that will be faced,” advised Salvanès.

Another piece of advice from the marketer is to keep ideas “scalable, replicable and easy to understand”. Given that this is targeting everyday people who use Airbnb as a supplement to their everyday lives, “anything overwhelming or inaccessible is unlikely to be used,” she warns.

Beyond the constraints of a ticking clock, the business is open to its chosen idea playing a bigger role in its marketing mix should it fit. “As empowering communities and neighbourhoods is something we are already working on in-house, it fits with our wider strategy and could, if right, be something hugely beneficial to our existing work,” promises Salvanès.

One area the chosen idea could help is in helping Airbnb continue to be a local brand with global awareness. From media planning to agency relationships, striking that balance is a constant challenge, one that could be softened should Plan it Day yield an idea that is both universal in terms of concept but has the flexibility to be authentic in all its markets.

Or as Salvanès puts it: “We are a global yet local brand, made up of unique people and their unique homes. No Airbnb is or should be the same, and we want to preserve the originality and authenticity of a local experience. It’s also important, however for all these local communities around the world to share in our vision to create a world where people can belong. If an idea can be born that allows communities to celebrate their unique identity, while at the same time apply a universal approach to doing that, we have a winner.”

Think you've got what it takes to work on Airbnb's challenge? Then sign up for Plan It Day here and help The Drum prove that marketing can change the world.

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