Airbnb adds Categories, Split Stays to help 'unlock amazing experiences'

Airbnb has just introduced what it's calling the biggest change it's made in a decade.

The shake-up is coming because people have changed how they're using Airbnb, and what they want from it. It's been widely reported that during the COVID-19 pandemic, long stays boomed as a work-from-anywhere trend took off.

But that wasn't the only change. People are also staying in more remote places - in the first quarter of this year, Airbnb's top 10 cities represented 8 percent of its revenue, down from 12 percent in the first quarter of 2019.

People are also increasingly keen on the weird and unique places you find on Airbnb, as evidenced by all the listicle articles all over the internet cataloguing them.

More and more, Airbnb is evolving, differentiating itself further from other similar services. There's still the likes of as a great hotel and flights booking website and Bookabach for booking a bach.

But some of what Airbnb now offers are features that only it can.

"We're seeing more of the digital nomad trend as people choose to live and work anywhere, which changes how they want to find places and where they want to go," Susan Wheeldon, Airbnb's AU, NZ & Oceania Country Director told Newshub.

"We have the ability now to cater for people who know they want to go away and know it should be near a beach or near a ski field or a national park, as examples, but they don't necessarily know where. You don't even have to say when - you can just say something like a weekend in July, or a week in August - and Airbnb will intelligently suggest places to you that you didn't even know you wanted to stay.

"It's a new way to unlock amazing experiences."

Airbnb has introduces three major new features:

  • Categories: These 56 groupings capitalise on what only Airbnb can do. The company has used machine learning to analyse all of its listings and has categorised four million homes by what makes them unique.
  • Split Stays: Ideal for longer stays, this allows you to stay in multiple places on the same booking. It'll also suggest recommended places based on what you're searching for to encourage discovery.
  • AirCover: Free assurance with each booking, including being upgraded to better accommodation if your stay is cancelled, you can't get into the place or it's not as it was advertised.

The company said searching online for accommodation has barely changed for the last quarter of a century, even though customers have changed a lot.

"Previously, you were restricted by the search box. You put in your destination and your dates and that's just how it's operated. But now, people are saying the house is the destination, so find me somewhere really cool and I will go whenever it is next available," said Wheeldon.

"The categories can also provide inspiration. I'd never thought I wanted to stay in a castle before, then I saw the castle category and thought - well yeah, let's see what's in the castle category!"

Once a year or so, me and a few friends like to have a retreat of sorts. We don't really care where this is so long as it's not more than about four hours drive from Auckland, doesn't have neighbours close by and has a decent hot tub. Actually, the hot tub is the most important thing, that's got to be really nice.

This is the sort of thing Airbnb is getting really good at - but it caters to desires far more unusual than a great hot tub.

Perhaps you want to stay in a place that has a grand piano, or in a treehouse, or in a windmill. You can click on one of these or plenty of other categories and see a bunch of them - all with the photo of that feature as the first photo you see.

Airbnb yellow submarine you can book a stay in, in New Zealand.
The yellow submarine you can book a stay in, in New Zealand. Photo credit: Airbnb

"We have the OMG! category, which is exactly that - you'll look through it going, 'Oh my goodness, that actually exists!' For example there's literally a woman who lives in a giant shoe, and you can stay in that shoe," said Wheeldon.

"One OMG! home that is very popular for marriage proposals is a tree house in New Zealand. Yurts is another category and you know that's going to be in a cool, random spot. There's tiny homes - which New Zealand does extraordinarily well. Then there's houseboats, castles, chef's kitchens, caves, containers...

"Airbnb is really committed to finding and nurturing what we call these OMG! places."

When Airbnb announced these latest changes in a global video, the company's CEO Brian Chesky demonstrated the OMG! category with a New Zealand listing: a yellow submarine home in some woods in Marton.

You can also search for things like surfing, golfing or skiing and be suggested places to stay near areas catering to those pursuits, then use the map to narrow the search to places you can actually go. So let's say you want to have a couple of weeks surfing in Australia - select the country in the top, click the surfing category and you're away.

Airbnb Split Stays suggest cool new places you didn't know you wanted to go.
Example of a surfing Split Stay in Australia. Photo credit: Airbnb

Combine that with a Split Stay and it might take you to the beach you were familiar with and were going to surf at anyway for one week, but the second week you'll stay at a different place with a lesser known, more private surf beach.

If you've recently come into a bunch of disposable money, you could try the private islands, castles, mansions or luxe categories - or just browse them as research for when you do win the Powerball.

Most of the homes listed on Airbnb don't require you to win Lotto to stay there, though, and some of them are truly weird and wonderful places you never imagined existed.

Airbnb hopes its recent changes will introduce more people to those types of places.