The Airbnb Way: How do they threaten the largest hotel chains in the world?

Posted On: October 7

As someone who typically travels more than 200 days per year, I spend a lot of time in hotels. However, I have been increasingly using Airbnb, especially when traveling internationally. During a two-week assignment in Amsterdam, my wife and I rented a stunning two-story apartment, with a gourmet kitchen, overlooking one of the main squares in the city. It was comfortable, clean, and truly felt like home, which is never the way I feel even in the best hotels. But how does an organization like Airbnb maintain that level of quality and service across thousands of properties around the world? Luckily, there is a great new book that describes specifically how to do it, The Airbnb Way: 5 Leadership Lessons for Igniting Growth through Loyalty, Community, and Belongingby Joseph Michelli 

Dr. Michelli is one of the world’s leading experts on customer service. I’ve been following his work for a long time and consider his books among the best I’ve ever read on how to create a culture of customer service excellence. Although he has written several books a few of my favorites include: 

With so many spectacular books, I expected great things from his new work on Airbnb and I was not disappointed. Joseph always does a ton of research on the companies he writes about and delivers a lot of background on the business. For Airbnb, he highlighted some amazing statistics on the hyper-growth of the company (they served more than a half-billion guests since their founding) actually the list is so cool am going to have to put it here.

In addition to more traditional accommodations, as of August 2018, the breadth of Airbnb listings included: 10,449 RVs, 2,194 yurts, 8,951 tiny houses, 9,000 boats, 2,194 treehouses, 183 igloos, 918 tipis, 155 windmills, and 758 caves.

Along the way, they have completely transformed the travel industry. According to Vox, Airbnb has long felt like an existential threat to hotel companies. New data shows that it actually is one. US consumers spent more money on Airbnb last year than they did on Hilton and its subsidiary brands like DoubleTree and Embassy Suites…Airbnb spending is even catching up to Marriott, the world’s largest hotel company, which added to its revenue by acquiring Starwood hotels in 2016.” From a quick Google search, it looks to me like Airbnb is currently valued at somewhere around $38 billion, not bad for a company founded a little more than 10 years ago.

How do you create such incredible growth? Joseph explains elegantly in this new book (as he has done in all his other superb books) that all great service companies focus on a handful of core service concepts that drive the entire business. For example, Airbnb has created what they call The Airbnb Way, which is crafted to share five essential concepts that underpin outstanding Airbnb experiences.

  • Belonging: creating a world where everyone can feel they belong anywhere
  • Trust: challenging fears of “stranger danger” and enabling people to experience the basic trustworthiness of others.
  • Hospitality: helping people deliver “service with heart.”
  • Empowerment: activating people to achieve economic and interpersonal goals.
  • Community: making a positive contribution to others.

The book delves into each of these topics in detail and explains the philosophies and processes behind them, which I found fascinating. But cool ideas are useless unless you can implement them; which is why I absolutely love that at the end of each chapter Joseph created a “travel planning guide.” These guides are packed with powerful questions and ideas to help you take the amazing things they do at Airbnb and figure out how to put them into action in your organization.

It is clear to me that one of the only competitive differentiators left to most organizations is the quality of the relationships they create with their customers which is a derivative of delivering consistently superior customer service. If you agree with me, which I hope you do, then you should read The Airbnb Way and several of Dr. Michelli’s other books. They will give you the information, tools and “how-to” guidance that will allow you to build an organization known for world-class customer service.

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