Dissecting Airbnb’s Destination Content Marketing Strategy

hawthorn creative hospitality marketing dissecting airbnbs destination content marketing strategy feature 1

Airbnb has long been on the minds of hotels and destination marketing executives for eating market share. But while the level of threat for established hotels and resorts is still out, what’s clear is that those in hospitality marketing should have their eye on another aspect of Airbnb’s presence: it’s content marketing. It sells its destinations and the Airbnb traveler lifestyle through a variety of slick, authenticity-first experiential marketing tactics, a philosophy Hawthorn preaches via our print and digital content marketing products.

From their new print magazine (yes, you read that right) to beautifully edited professional video to a community-generated recommendations section, we dive into Airbnb’s content efforts that are relevant to those in hotel or destination marketing, and offer takeaways you can apply to your own strategies.

Airbnbmag: Bridging the Digital and Print Divide

In conjunction with Hearst, Airbnb launched the Airbnbmag in May. The second issue of the print-only magazine is coming in September, and if all goes well, it’ll be back in 2018 with a more frequent publishing schedule. The magazine’s primary distribution is via direct mail to top hosts and guests, supplemented by newsstand presence in some bookstores and airports. Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky told the Wall Street Journal that print intrigued him because “It isn’t ephemeral, as opposed to content on a feed that expires.”

What may be the most intriguing and interesting aspect of this project? It’s how this digital-era trendsetter is using data to drive their content decisions in an analog publication. What Airbnb is doing is using all that digital data they have to make it simple for editors to define what destinations should be the focus of their biggest features in the magazine. “We know how many people are searching to stay in Havana, Detroit, or Tokyo, and we know how many people want to go based on search dates for future trips,” Chesky explained in the Wall Street Journal article in May. “No one has billions of demand search data points for nearly every country in the world. That gives us a leg up.”

Takeaway for Hotel & Destination Marketing Professionals:

You may not have access to the same pool of big data that Airbnb has, but you can still look at your hotel’s or destination’s website analytics and see what sections of the site people are spending the most time on and let that help shape your content. You could also look at booking timeframes and take note of things like an uptick in last-minute getaways in a certain season or to a certain place and draw ideas from those stats, too. Even simply a few broader conversations with Revenue Management could shed some light on some content themes  you may not have considered before.

Blog: Giving Hosts What They Need

Airbnb’s blog, which lives as a subdomain of “atairbnb.com,” covers tips primarily for hosts, as well as Airbnb’s partnerships and initiatives. The stories on the blog – like “Make Your Listing Accessible to Japanese Travelers,” “How Airbnb Delivers Insights to Hosts,” and “Opening More Homes to People in Need” – are relatively economical in length, clear in language and intent, and effective with messaging. They also mix videos and photos into the story as needed, too. Airbnb occasionally goes deeper on the blog with features like the Hospitality Index, highlighting Airbnb’s most hospitable cities, or the Economic Impact study, which takes a deep look at the effect Airbnb has had on cities.

Takeaway for Hotel & Destination Marketing Professionals:

Your stories don’t have to be long, but they have to have a point. Don’t create content to fill a quota; create content to do a specific job. You never want to discount SEO and keywords, but if the intended message is most effectively conveyed in 300 words, then that’s enough. If it takes 2,000 words, that’s OK, too.

Neighborhoods: A 10,000-Foot Destination View

Neighborhoods is a finely organized blog-like feed of the boroughs within a given city. If you select Los Angeles, for example, there are 60 neighborhoods to choose from, and tags at the top to filter the choices down, like “Trendy,” “Peace & Quiet,” “Touristy,” and “Celebrity Status.” Within an individual neighborhood, there’s an embedded Google Map at the top of the page to orient yourself, followed by a long-scroll blog approach to highlighting the neighborhood through top-quality images and brief caption descriptions to give you the full lay of the land. Finally, at the bottom of the page, you’re led to a few potential choices for Airbnb homes in that neighborhood. There’s a clear funnel to a sale.

Takeaway for Hotel & Destination Marketing Professionals:

You don’t need us to tell you we live in a visual world. But this is an interesting approach to sourcing those top-quality images by prominently partnering with a local photographer (who they feature at the bottom to give extra exposure for that photographer). Alternatively, they could have just hired the photographer, given photo credit, and left it at that. It adds authenticity – that holy grail of all content these days – by showing it’s a true local’s perspective. Pros in destination and hospitality marketing could certainly do the same, choosing to profile the local who is providing the content, not just showing their work.

Guidebooks: Host-Recommended Picks in Every Destination

If Neighborhoods is a beautiful photo scroll , Guidebooks is Airbnb’s Lonely Planet or Zagat, helping you make sense of a city’s coolest things to do. But here’s the key: It all comes directly from the mouths of hosts who live there. First, you pick a city – we’ll stick with Los Angeles for this example – and then you can select verticals like “Food Scene,” “Drinks & Nightlife,” “Arts & Culture,” and more. When you pick one, they’re listed in order of rank according to local Airbnb hosts, and their comments are included, too. On the right side of the screen, there are pins dropped to a map, helping you easily figure out where these places are and how they fit into your trip.

Takeaway for Hotel & Destination Marketing Professionals:

Done successfully, user-generated content may be the ideal form of content marketing. It provides that level of authenticity since it’s coming from locals, and once you’ve built the plan, it can mean little time investment from you and your team (only light curating). But Airbnb hosts are natural and willing content suppliers. And Guidebooks took significant developer build-out. What’s the low-hanging fruit equivalent for you? Seasonal UGC photo contests like the ones we’ve executed? A way you harness existing area/destination reviews for future guests? Maybe it’s even analog – some highly visual gathering space where guests can give recommendations of what to see or do on a chalkboard wall.

Community Stories: Finding New Hosts through Emotional Stories

Community Stories is a profile series – both written articles and video – about Airbnb hosts (primarily), to entice others with that idea in a very editorial way. It gets readers daydreaming about how Airbnb could change their life and routine. Tessa, for example, used to work 100-hour weeks and traveled frequently. Now housebound due to a neurological disease, Airbnb “brings the world” to Tessa, as the story puts it.

Takeaway for Hotel & Destination Marketing Professionals:

People like stories about people. While you may not have the marketing budget that Airbnb has for story-specific video, profiling people will always be a classic content approach. In the case of hotel and destination marketing, the natural approach is profiling locals who are doing fascinating things and who can bring the great “why I love it here” aspects of your area or destination to life.

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