Catherine Powell is the new Global Head of Hosting at Airbnb. In late July, Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky announced drastic changes at his company and stated once again that platform was going back to its roots, back to the individual Airbnb host. For instance, he announced that efforts to cater to the tech needs of big property managers had been shelved and that new initiatives like Flights and Transportation had been paused.
It is Catherine Powell’s job to ensure that this happens. She’s the successor to Greg Greeley, who became head of Airbnb’s Homes division in 2018 after an 18-year run at Amazon, where he helped create Amazon Prime. Ms. Powell comes from Disney and has been working for Airbnb for 6 months, where she was in charge of Experiences. She launched Online Experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Here are the cliff notes on she announced:
- Airbnb wants hosts to see it as their partner but also acknowledges that the company has some work to do. Airbnb wants to center its business on hosts and hosting just as it did in the early days.
- Catherine Powell wants to bring more transparency in the relationship between Airbnb hosts and the company. For instance, she says many decisions had been taken during the pandemic without consulting hosts.
- As an example of transparency, she’s shared that Airbnb’s customer service was understaffed at the moment, as the company had to let go of many service agents while bookings rebounded unexpectedly for the summer.
- She wants to provide more guidance and more control to hosts by sharing more data and insights on what is happening in each market. To that point, she mentioned the new Opportunites tab, available in the Host Dashboard.
- She thinks Airbnb should be a trusted brand, that meets or exceeds guest expectations and that tells stories. Hosts are the ones making these stories happen. Airbnb is unique in providing authenticity, passion, and connection
- Catherine Powell launched Online Experiences after meeting and listening to Experiences hosts who had to face the consequences of the coronavirus crisis. Yet, she acknowledges that the 700 active online experiences are not much compared with the millions of Airbnb hosts around the world.
- She learned to seek ideas from hosts, so she’s going to do more of that, by hosting workshops with 100 “host leaders” to co-create new ideas.
- She will be talking directly to hosts by video frequently, to give details on the progress of her mission
Catherine Powell’s message to Airbnb hosts
Hi everyone. I’m Catherine. I’m Airbnb’s new Global Head of Hosting. This is the first of many messages you’ll hear from me today. I just want to introduce myself, talk a little bit about my role, and share my thoughts of ways in which I hope we’ll work together going forward.
I started at Airbnb six months ago. And before that I was at Disney for 15 years in my most recent role at Disney, I oversaw Disneyland Paris, Disneyworld, and Disneyland in Anaheim. I’m often asked by hosts what I learned at Disney that might be relevant to Airbnb. I would say there are three things.
- The first is brand. I learned how important the strength of a brand is and how a brand must deliver on its promise. If you have a trusted brand, you must do all that. You cannot break that trust for all those who believe in it. And Airbnb is a trusted brand.
- Second, the experience we give our guests, we need to strive to at least meet if not exceed our guests expectations and create that special connection and hopefully memory that will stay with them.
- And finally, the impact of storytelling. Storytelling is the strongest connective tissue that exists. And yes, I know what you’re thinking. Disney has characters whose stories live in fictional worlds that Airbnb has something much more impactful. We have you, our hosts whose world is very real, and whose stories live in your homes, your cultures, and your passions that you choose to share with our guests.
This is why I joined Airbnb. This is why I’m so excited to go on this hosting journey with you. I truly believe Airbnb provides something unique in travel, authenticity, passion, and connection. You can only get through a host. You make this kind of travel possible.
You may know that I joined Airbnb as head of Airbnb experiences. And I was so excited about this role to me experiences are the ultimate, not in storytelling, but story living. But two months after I started, we had to suspend all our experiences. It was an incredibly tough decision to make, but one that we believed was the right one to keep our community safe. I met with lots of hosts following this decision, and I saw and heard firsthand just how difficult COVID-19 was and still is on our community. But during those listening sessions, I was also inspired by the optimism, the resilience, and the great ideas I heard. We met with hundreds of you and many wanted to offer online experiences. And we love this idea. So we launched online experiences in 14 working days, working from home in a pandemic. And it’s now the fastest-growing product Airbnb has ever launched.
Now I know that online experiences hasn’t provided an opportunity for many, if not, most of you after all, we have millions of hosts and only around 700 online experiences. But if there’s one important takeaway for me, it’s that I learned to seek ideas from you. There is so much ingenuity in this community, and I want to partner with you to unlock that. So one of the first steps I want to take is to roll out a series of workshops to meet you hear from you. And co-create new ideas with you. As I said, we have millions of hosts, not all will be able to, to participate, but we’ll select a hundred hosts leaders to start working with my commitment to you is that we’ll rebuild our business around you and your ideas. Now let’s talk about the new hosting team. It’s the first time that we will have a single team, the homes, and experiences.
We want to create a unified host community. We’re centering our business on hosts and hosting just as we did in the early days, we want to serve you better and to show the world why an Airbnb host is different, special, and unique. So let’s talk about what will change.
- One of the biggest things I hope is transparency. We’ve heard you say many decisions taken during the pandemic felt like they were made in a vacuum with no consultation or partnership with you going forward. We want to work more closely with you on important decisions and be open about what we’re thinking and even where we’re struggling.
- For example, look at customer support. We know we’re not currently providing the service you need. COVID-19 hit our business, just like it hit yours. We had to make considerable staffing reductions. And the truth is we weren’t ready to provide the support we needed to. I know this is hard to believe for those of you who are not seeing bookings, but in many places, bookings have rebounded faster than we’d anticipated, which has meant more travelers asking questions, more hosts, asking questions and fewer support reps to help them. But we’re very focused on addressing this issue and are working around to rebuild the team. I’ll keep you updated as we get back to the support you deserve and you need, I also want to be able to share more with you on the opportunities for businesses.
- We’ve heard many of you say you want guidance. We have lots of insights into what people are booking when they’re booking, why they’re booking. And we want to share those insights with you and give you more agency over what to do with that data. I’ll go more into, into more specifics on this, the next time we speak. But in the meantime, many of you have a new Opportunities tab in your dashboards with personalized data on what people are booking in your area. And we will continue to roll out this data, sharing with all our hosts. None of us know what’s in store with COVID-19, but we want to provide everything we can to give you the greatest control over your business.
I’m here in front of you today to make clear that we want you to see us as your partner, but also to acknowledge that we have some work to do. I won’t be able to solve every, every problem, but I want to be there to work more closely with you to help address the problems that we can solve in the next few weeks. I’ll touch on some other important topics. Like the feedback from our workshops, more detail on how we plan to share insights and the evolution of big policies that might affect your businesses. But today I’m keeping it short. As I said, this is the first of many messages I’m looking forward to meeting more of you in the workshops and hopefully in person soon in the meantime, take care of yourself. Thank you.