This time around we take a look at Airbnb, for our Startup Of The Month segment which looks at businesses within the region.

The origin story of Airbnb has become one of the most notable and inspiring startup stories due to its popularity in more recent times. Let’s revisit its quirky and humble beginnings: with their initial goal “to make a few bucks” in paying the rent of their loft apartment, founders Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia decided to put up an air mattress in their living room and turn it into a bed and breakfast.

“They [Travellers] want unique and authentic experiences, the kind that let you really get under the skin of a place, discover its hidden gems and understand its real character. “
Mike Orgill, General Manager of the Southeast Asia region for Airbnb

A little over six months after the launch of Airbnb (initially known as “AirBed & Breakfast”) in August 2008, the platform had garnered up to 10,000 users going through a 2,500-strong listing, which had expanded from the surfing couches, air beds and shared spaces, to entire homes and apartments and private rooms, as well as novelty properties, such as castles, boats, tipis, igloos and even private islands.

Airbnb
Airbnb offers the modern nomad a selection of homes away from home

In December 2012, Airbnb finally reached our shores when the San Francisco-established startup set up its office in Singapore to penetrate more aggressively into the Asian market. The latest on board the Airbnb office in the Southeast Asia region is the newly appointed General Manager Mike Orgill, who is responsible for driving Airbnb’s strategy and long-term growth in some of Airbnb’s fast growing markets.

Following his portfolio in leading Google’s public policy efforts for emerging markets in Asia, the Stanford graduate brings a wealth of experience from his previous role as the Director of Public Policy for Asia Pacific at Airbnb, where he led a team of policy professionals across the region and engaged various government and community leaders.

 

Airbnb started off back in 2008 in San Francisco, and it is not until close to five years later that the company decided to build up its Asian market. How do you think the Southeast Asian community is catching up to the more developed and progressive database over at the other side of the world?

Airbnb has been growing steadily in Asia Pacific, where 172 cities currently have more than 1,000 active listings. It’s no surprise that tourism is growing in the region. We have an incredible variety of unique destinations, local traditions and cultures – arguably, some of the best hospitality in the world. Whether it’s a relaxing wellness trip to Bali or an urban exploration of bustling Tokyo, Asia has a multifaceted diversity that appeals to every type of traveller.

“Over 74% of Malaysians believe that Airbnb allows Malaysian entrepreneurs to start their own business”
Mike Orgill, General Manager of the Southeast Asia region for Airbnb

We believe that our community in the region is increasingly recognising the benefits of home sharing as a form of economic empowerment; in fact, over 74% of Malaysians believe that Airbnb allows Malaysian entrepreneurs to start their own business, and be financially self-sufficient. In doing so, they help their communities by supporting local businesses and encouraging cultural exchange.

Airbnb
Airbnb is growing steadily in Asia Pacific: 172 cities currently have more than 1,000 active listings

Following the change for travellers when it comes to travelling, or planning for holidays in this modern age, how do you think Airbnb has contributed to this new way of travelling?

People are finding ways to make travel a major part of their lifestyle, driven by a new experience-led economy where they place greater value on experiences over ownership. We also know that people all over the world want a new kind of travel. Travellers are no longer satisfied with the same cookie-cutter experiences, or going to the same tourist spots that everyone’s already seen. They want unique and authentic experiences, the kind that let you really get under the skin of a place, discover its hidden gems and understand its real character. Airbnb meets these new travellers’ needs with over six million unique listings today, ranging from treehouses to windmills, tiny homes to boutique hotels. We are also connecting travellers to a different and authentic side of a city, all powered by local people through Airbnb Experiences. Today, we have 30,000 unique, one-of-a-kind experiences on our platform that are handcrafted and led by local experts. In Malaysia, travellers can take anything from a hike to food tours and heritage walks.

 

It seems like Airbnb has every angle covered, but what do you think Airbnb is currently lacking when it comes to meeting the travellers’ demands, and how is the company working towards fixing that?

At Airbnb, we envision a world where everyone can belong anywhere. Our global community of guests and hosts has grown significantly since 2008; today, it spans over 191 countries and 81,000 cities worldwide. We have made a lot of progress on the “anywhere” part, and now we want to make more progress on the “everyone can belong” part. We’ve received overwhelming interest from new Homes and Experience hosts interested to join Airbnb, and we’re working hard to keep up with the demand. This comes as we recently celebrated half a billion guest arrivals in March!

“People are finding ways to make travel a major part of their lifestyle, driven by a new experience-led economy “
Mike Orgill, General Manager of the Southeast Asia region for Airbnb

We’re now setting our sights on a billion: one billion guests experiencing Airbnb, living like a local and being welcomed in every home. To achieve this, we are focused on reimagining travel to build the ultimate end-to-end travel platform that combines where you stay, what you do, and how you get there – all in one place.

Airbnb
Airbnb envisions a world where everyone can belong anywhere

Do you have any personal favourite Airbnb experiences that you can share with us?

I’ve had countless memorable Airbnb experiences, but there are two great ones that immediately come to mind. I once stayed in a private room in Seoul and as my English-speaking host wasn’t around, and I was hosted by his elderly mother, a kind Korean granny who didn’t speak a word of English. She treated me like I was her son, waking up early every day to make breakfast for me, and preparing dinner when I returned home every night. Her genuine warmth and kindness transcended any language barriers we had. The other unforgettable experience I had was in Sydney, Australia. My host was a volunteer veterinarian who helped rehabilitate wounded indigenous animals in her home; each time I visited, I would get to learn about another interesting animal.

 

What do you look for in accommodations during your travels, be it an Airbnb lodging, or just hotels in general?

Outside of work, I usually travel with my wife and two kids, so I’m always on the lookout for family-friendly homes. I usually search straight from the Family Homes collection on the Airbnb platform, which is a curated repository of Homes that offer additional amenities including kitchens, washing machines and children’s cots. That being said, I would love to see more traditional homes on our platform. I’ve stayed in Iban and Berawan longhouses in Sarawak, which offer some of the most intriguing architecture and unparalleled local hospitality. Bringing these unique homes on board our platform would hopefully help to preserve these traditions by empowering our local community to share their culture, and connecting them with a growing international audience who desire to experience authentic local hospitality in an intimate setting.

 

One of the main problems Airbnb is facing, especially in countries like Malaysia and/or Singapore, is that certain properties do not allow Airbnb hosting within its premise, mainly due to security reasons. How is Airbnb working towards a compromise with each respective government’s laws and policies, not only with governmental bodies, but also perhaps, with the hosts and their concerned neighbours?

Building a safe, trusted community is our priority. There have been more than 500 million guest arrivals in Airbnb listings to date, and negative incidents are extremely rare. Even so, we’re constantly working to improve our platform, our policies and our protections, because even one incident is one too many.

This requires a foundation of trust grounded in consistent expectations of host and guest behaviour, which is why Airbnb has established Community Standards to help guide the behaviour and values that underpin our global community. We continue to
work with guests and hosts to share tips on responsible guesting and hosting.

Airbnb
Airbnb helps people all over the world achieve a different kind of experience-led travel

Airbnb has also launched the Neighbour Tool, in which any resident around the world can choose to file a complaint against irresponsible behaviour. We follow up directly, and where appropriate, punish or remove bad actors. We will take action directly against hosts if they repeatedly violate our standards and expectations, and will not hesitate to remove hosts from our platform where there are repeated breaches of Airbnb’s standards.

Lastly, the Airbnb Friendly Buildings Program serves as a way for landlords, property managers and homeowners’ associations to let people in their buildings host on Airbnb as they can define home sharing terms for participating residents. This gives building owners access to a customised dashboard that shows when residents participating in the programme are hosting, how many guests are staying with them, and more.

 

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What are the future projects that we can expect from the Southeast Asia region of Airbnb under your leadership in the foreseeable future?

We want to continue bringing benefits to the local economy by diversifying travel, empowering local entrepreneurs, and strengthening local communities. For example, we recently launched a campaign to celebrate Songkran in Thailand, in which we encouraged local Thais to reconnect with their families through exploring their own country’s rich culture and unique hospitality. Four winners enjoyed a weeklong domestic getaway with their family, and explored a new city with unique Airbnb stay and family-friendly Experiences. We definitely have plans to continue exploring new, creative ways to drive local and authentic tourism in the region.

 

This feature first appeared in the June/July 2019 print issue of Augustman Malaysia.

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