Round-Up: Airbnb Purges 5000 Experiences, HomeToGo Unveils Super AI Sunny, Touch Stay Acquired by itrinity

Uvika Wahi

Round-Up: Airbnb Purges 5000 Experiences, HomeToGo Unveils Super AI Sunny, Touch Stay Acquired by itrinity

Airbnb Purges 5,000 Experiences, Leaves Operators Concerned

Key Takeaways for Vacation Rental Managers:

  • Airbnb Removal of 5,000 Experiences: Airbnb has decided to remove around 5,000 experiences from its platform, effective June 20, 2024.
  • Reason for Removal: The decision follows an evaluation process where Airbnb assessed the quality of experiences based on host expertise, uniqueness, local relevance, and guest ratings and reviews.
  • Impact on Operators: Affected operators are receiving notifications, with future reservations being canceled and refunds issued to guests.
  • Operator Reactions: Many operators, including those with high ratings, have expressed shock and concern over losing their customer reviews and bookings.
  • Appeal Process: Airbnb is allowing operators 30 days to appeal the removal decision.
  • Background: The Experiences division was launched in 2016, with submissions paused in 2023. Airbnb recently partnered with brands like Disney and Pixar for exclusive experiences, which may have influenced the recent changes.
  • Community Insights: Industry leaders highlight the significant impact on small business owners relying on Airbnb for income and caution against dependence on a single platform.

Uvika’s View: 

  • Airbnb’s decision to remove approximately 5,000 experiences from their platform, citing failure to meet their standards, raises questions, particularly because the specifics of these standards were not disclosed. 
  • This lack of transparency is puzzling, especially as many operators who received the removal notification assert that they have high ratings.
  • The timing of this is curious, as the launch of ‘Icons’ recently aligned experiences firmly with Airbnb’s stay offerings, positioning Airbnb as a lifestyle brand. 
  • In the launch video for Icons, Chesky emphasized that these experiences were exclusive and, in some cases, built specifically for Airbnb. This suggests that exclusivity might be a factor, aiming for experiences that can’t be found anywhere else. 
  • The broader industry context underscores the importance of integrating experiences with stay offerings. For instance, the HomeToGo partnerships with Komoot and GetYourGuide incorporate excursions and tours into the booking process, illustrating a growing trend where providing unique local experiences is becoming essential for platforms that offer short-term rentals. 
  • On one hand, the decision by Airbnb to purge these experiences could enhance the quality and uniqueness of experiences offered, making the platform more attractive to users seeking one-of-a-kind activities. 
  • On the other hand, it places significant pressure on small business operators who might rely on Airbnb for a substantial portion of their income and now face the challenge of adapting quickly to changing market conditions.

HomeToGo Unveils Super AI Sunny and Enhances AI Capabilities with Google Cloud’s Vertex AI

Key Takeaways for Vacation Rental Managers:

  • HomeToGo unveiled its new AI companion, Super AI Sunny, and announced enhancements through Google Cloud’s Vertex AI.
  • AI Sunny is an evolved version of HomeToGo’s existing chatbot, Sunny, now in beta, offering instant guest relations support for vacation rental bookings. It allows guests to ask and receive immediate answers to booking-related questions via personalized conversation.
  • HomeToGo aims to merge AI Mode and AI Sunny into Super AI Sunny, providing comprehensive support throughout the travel journey:
    • Search Assistance: Helps guests find the perfect rental for any travel scenario.
    • Booking Support: Answers questions about specific rentals, including pet policies, cancellation details, and parking options.
    • Post-Booking Help: Plans to offer features like personalized packing lists, local restaurant recommendations, weather forecasts, and more.
  • HomeToGo has also created a central AI application named AI Autobahn to unify all AI use cases while remaining adaptable to different large language models (LLMs).
  • HomeToGo plans to use Google Cloud’s Vertex AI platform to enhance AI Autobahn, leveraging the platform’s model garden to train and customize LLMs as needed.
  • Currently, HomeToGo is testing Google Cloud’s Gemini models to power Smart AI Reviews, summarizing guest reviews to highlight key information quickly and reliably.
  • New Add-On Features:
    • SQUAKE: Allows travelers to offset carbon emissions from their stays, available post-booking across all HomeToGo web markets.
    • komoot: Provides free access to nearby biking and hiking routes on the HomeToGo App in Germany.
    • WeatherPromise: Offers German travelers a weather guarantee, ensuring a full refund if it rains for a specified period during their trip.

About HomeToGo:

  • HomeToGo is a vacation rental marketplace that offers millions of accommodations from thousands of partners worldwide. 
  • The company runs 25 local apps & websites across Europe and North America.
  • On the business side, HomeToGo offers HomeToGo_PRO, catering to professionals in the vacation rental market by delivering software and services designed to streamline the management and booking process.

Uvika’s View:

  • While the announcement of AI Sunny or AI Mode isn’t new in itself, the real novelty lies in the detailed insight into how HomeToGo plans to utilize AI throughout the guest journey. We now have a clearer picture of how HomeToGo intends to leverage its own AI innovations alongside its collaboration with Google Cloud to enhance the overall platform experience. 
  • By focusing on a seamless integration of AI across the guest experience, HomeToGo is continuing to position itself as a comprehensive travel planner—a role that is increasingly sought after in the online travel agency (OTA) market.
  • HomeToGo’s intention to keep all elements within its ecosystem is made possible through access to resources and tech. Sunny AI itself is in response to clear demand from guests for such tailored services, as evidenced by the flood of AI support chatbots in the market, some of which we showed in action during our last workshop.
  • Beyond AI, the integration of services like SQUAKE for carbon compensation and Komoot for adventure planning into the guest journey reflects HomeToGo’s broader strategy to enhance user engagement. Additionally, the introduction of WeatherPromise adds another layer of service that enriches the booking experience.
  • HomeToGo’s use of the term “AI marketplace” is intriguing, especially when compared to Airbnb’s exploration of a Host Services marketplace. This parallel invites speculation on how both platforms might evolve their service offerings to include a variety of tools aimed at enriching both the host and guest experiences.
  • It’s also noteworthy that Dr. Patrick Andrae, Co-Founder & CEO of HomeToGo, mentioned, “we don’t wait for big, fancy launch dates,” in the original announcement, which seems like a subtle jab at Airbnb’s approach to product releases. 

Touch Stay, Provider of Digital Guest Welcome Books, Acquired by Czech Group itrinity

Key Takeaways for Vacation Rental Managers:

  • Touch Stay, a technology business providing digital guidebooks for vacation rentals, has been sold to itrinity, a Czech group with expertise in software as a service (SaaS) products.
  • The co-founder of Touch Stay, Andy McNulty, after experiencing significant health challenges following a stroke, decided to sell the company to focus on personal health and well-being.
  • The sale involves only the company shares, meaning all existing terms, conditions, and the operational team will remain unchanged for users and their guests.
  • itrinity brings extensive expertise in product technology, infrastructure, and marketing, which could enhance the digital guidebook offerings and overall service quality.
  • The transition will be managed by the current leadership to ensure continuity and stability, and the new owners are committed to the growth and development of Touch Stay’s services.

About Touch Stay:

  • Touch Stay offers a streamlined solution for vacation rental managers to create and distribute digital guidebooks. 
  • These guidebooks are easily accessible online, requiring no app downloads. Managers simply share a link with their guests, who can then access the guidebook from any device to find all the necessary information about their rental, local recommendations, and other essential tips.

Uvika’s View:

  • At Rental Scale-Up, we’ve observed firsthand Touch Stay’s significant impact on the vacation rental industry. Andy and his team have not only developed a great product but also ensured it arrived at a crucial time, aligning perfectly with a growing emphasis on sustainability. 
  • Throughout our interactions, numerous property managers and hosts who use Touch Stay have expressed their high regard for the platform. The company’s ability to foster a community of ambassadors who passionately promote the service is commendable.
  • We extend our best wishes to Andy and the entire Touch Stay team for their future endeavors!
  • However, the timing of this sale raises interesting points for reflection, especially in the current technological landscape. With the advent of AI, numerous tools now offer similar functionalities—providing support and recommendations through simple links. It remains to be seen how Touch Stay will continue to differentiate itself and maintain its relevance in this rapidly evolving market.

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