WHEN: Today, Friday, April 16th
WHERE: CNBC's "TechCheck"
Following is the unofficial transcript of a CNBC exclusive interview with Airbnb co-founder and CEO Brian Chesky on CNBC's "TechCheck" (M-F 11AM – 12PM ET) today, Friday, April 16th. Following is a link to video on CNBC.com: https://www.cnbc.com/video/2021/04/16/airbnb-ceo-on-the-campaign-to-attract-more-hosts-as-demand-surges.html.
All references must be sourced to CNBC.
DEIRDRE BOSA: Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky says the winter for travel is over and they are preparing for a summer surge especially among the vaccinated. One problem though potential problem will they have enough supply to meet demand. I talked to Chesky exclusively about what he is seeing and how he's getting ready for reopening.
BRIAN CHESKY: I think it's safe to say that winter is now over. It's pretty crazy to think one year ago, we had seen a precipitous drop in our business about 80% in about eight weeks. Well now, we're startin' to see a really big rebound. And what we're seeing is when people are vaccinated, they're traveling again. So to give you a sense, seniors, people over the age of 60 on Airbnb, searches for summer travel and Memorial Day Weekend are up 60% just between February and March. So we're starting to see people wanna travel. It's the out of door, out of home activity they miss the most. When they can travel, they do. And the other thing we're seeing is people aren't going to the same places they used. Airbnb, we're very much known to be an urban brand. You use Airbnb to stay in cities. Well now, a lot of our growth is in rural areas, small towns and even entry points at national parks. So, for example, our searches in the last month for rural destinations are up 40%. So those are just some of the things we're seeing. I do think once the world reopens, cities will come back. But it's not gonna be a shift back to cities. It's gonna be a redistribution where people are going from traveling to 100 cities to truly traveling everywhere.
DEIRDRE BOSA: Right. So what I'm hearing from you is that demand is certainly recovering. But what about supply? We've seen this with ridesharing, with rental cars other sort of opening up industries. Your listings, is that meeting demand? And how are you making sure that hosts stay on Airbnb or come on Airbnb, particularly when your rivals like Expedia are offering incentives to get them on their platforms?
BRIAN CHESKY: Well, you know, I think that we probably will have a high cost problem where there will probably be more guests coming to Airbnb than we'll have hosts for because what we think is we think there's gonna be a travel rebound coming that's unlike anything we've ever seen. So we are working our very, very hardest to get ready for the travel season. And we've just done a global host campaign, a global ad campaign called Made Possible by Hosts, which is not just a way to promote more people traveling on Airbnb, but I think it's gonna work really well to attract more people to become hosts in Airbnb as well.
DEIRDRE BOSA: Right. You mentioned that global marketing campaign. That cost money, right? In the past, you've said that a lot of your hosts come to the platform organically. Is that changing at all? Do you expect to spend more money on marketing to get those hosts on the platform this year?
BRIAN CHESKY: I mean, we are, we are never going to spend the amount of money on marketing as a percentage of revenue as we did before the pandemic because one of the things that happened is when travel stopped, we cut off almost all of our marketing. And something remarkable happened last year. Our traffic, even before resumed marketing, got to 95% of the traffic from the year prior. I think what that revealed is our brand's incredibly strong and we don't have to spend that much money on marketing as we used to.
DEIRDRE BOSA: Right. And obviously, the market has changed a little. Your competitors are getting quite aggressive, as I mentioned, with incentives. Are you guys willing to spend more? Do you sort of put profitability plans do you push them out a little bit in order to make sure that you have enough supply to meet the incredible demand you're expecting to see this year?
BRIAN CHESKY: I think that we are the leader of this category. And I, I, I think that we will retain that leadership position. And it's just a matter of doing investments. But I don't think we, you need to, we'll anticipate doing a lot of incentives because, you know, I think we have a huge amount of demand for the service already.
DEIRDRE BOSA: So you haven't seen any evidence of this, or of hosts going from your platform to others?
BRIAN CHESKY: We're the only platform that is custom built for everyday people to become hosts on the platform, really individuals. And so no, we're seeing actually increased strength of our host community.
DEIRDRE BOSA: Once we see reopening and people start to travel again and perhaps want more traditional forms of travel, do some of Airbnb's broader ambitions pre-pandemic, like hotels and real estate projects, do those get picked back up?
BRIAN CHESKY: Well, I mean, I think as travel recovers, there are things that we scale back that we can resume. To be clear with hotels a couple, a few years ago, we, we really started getting more serious about this. And then more recently, we've acquired Hotel Tonight, which is one of the most loved hotel booking apps in the United States. And we are gonna continue to invest in that product. And one of the big trends that we're seeing is the decline of business travel.
DEIRDRE BOSA: I remember talking to you a few years ago and you guys were actually developing sort of your own hotel in the middle of Manhattan. Plans like that, your own developments, do you see that in the future? Could those be resumed?
BRIAN CHESKY: Not in the near future. Never say never. We think there are so many opportunities as we continue to grow. But one of the things that I think that has been really revealing is the power of the global network of Airbnb. And so, you know, just developing real estate projects is really interesting. But again, we have 4 million hosts. To meet the demand over the coming years, we're gonna need millions more hosts. And I think the network-based model we have where we build tools and allow people to be able to become hosts themselves in, you know, communities all over the world is gonna be the most scalable model for us.
DEIRDRE BOSA: You said that you've continued to see the average length of Airbnb stays continue to lengthen. What is the average right now?
BRIAN CHESKY: I, I don't think we're gonna probably disclose that right now. But we, you know, in coming, in coming earnings reports, I'll be really interested in sharing some of the trends we're seeing. But what I can certainly say is that we have seen a consistent increase in the length of stay on Airbnb over the last five years. A world with more flexibility is a world where people are gonna be traveling more and traveling longer. And traveling and living are blurring together. And I think that's why people like staying in homes. The longer you're away from home, you wanna be in a home. You have the comforts.
DEIRDRE BOSA: At the same time, you have some very big companies, in tech nonetheless, like Google and Uber saying that their workforce needs to actually live close to the office. So that idea of a flexible workforce is kinda being scaled back, don't you think, as we approach a reopening. Does that make you sort of adjust your expectations and what you just talked about, a workforce that is able to travel so freely? Maybe it's not gonna be that free?
BRIAN CHESKY: Well, no, I, I think it's gonna best pretty free. I mean I, I don't think very many tech companies have said that they are anticipating people going back--
DEIRDRE BOSA: Well, Google though. Google's massive. And they, they said that you gotta live close to the office or you have to apply if it's gonna be more than 14 days. And that's a big company.
BRIAN CHESKY: Yeah. And yeah. I, what I don't think we'll see though is at most of these companies people going back to the office five days a week. Flexibility's a sign of the future. Any company that is not flexible is probably gonna lose out on talent. And so I don't think the companies are gonna be dictating this. I think the talent market is gonna be dictating because if you can't get the best engineers, if you can't get the best people, you're gonna probably have to adapt your policy.
DEIRDRE BOSA: You haven't worked out the exact policy yet, but have you thought about your real estate footprint in San Francisco? If you are aiming to give your workforce more flexibility, do you need all that space that you have right now in San Francisco?
BRIAN CHESKY: Well, I mean, we are staying in San Francisco. I live here in San Francisco. I love this city and I love this state. I mean, we wouldn't have been, our success wouldn't have been possible without this. So, number one, we are staying in San Francisco. Number two--
DEIRDRE BOSA: You're not going to Miami is what you're saying?
BRIAN CHESKY: We are not going to I, I'm not going to Miami. You know, some employees might be. But you know, you know, I will be here. So yeah. I, I think you know, we are absolutely we're maintaining our office footprint here in San Francisco. I think all companies aren't gonna need as much real estate because I think a lot of us are realizing we can move towards a shared desking model where, you know, you don't need a dedicated desk. If you do that, you don't actually need as much of a footprint. People aren't gonna all be in the office five days a week. So I don't think that we'll probably have less real estate years from now than today. But that doesn't mean we're uprooting from San Francisco. This is still a root for me and this company. And it's gonna be a very important place.
BRIAN CHESKY: Brian Armstrong, before starting Coinbase, worked for Airbnb. He was one of our first engineers. He then became a product manager. And Brian actually is one of the original architects of our payment platform and our fraud detection system. So I'm really, really proud of what he's doing. And I think that, similar to Bitcoin or crypto currency, I think one of the lessons here is when you give power to people, it provides more economic empowerment and more access. But in order to get more power to people, people have to be able to trust each other. And so you need to have a system of trust. And obviously, crypto currencies have, have their own system of trust. Airbnb, our system of trust based on our reputation system I think has been able to unlock a lot of economics. And so I think this is I, I think these general trends of unlocking systems of trust that anyone more people to participate in the economy is a huge boon to the global economy. As far as our plans, I don't have anything to announce right now. But I can tell you that we've been certainly looking at this.
DEIRDRE BOSA: Now key here Carl and Jon, Chesky and many other business leaders coming on CNBC, they're thinking and talking about crypto more than ever now. Chesky's comments suggest that he may be thinking about it less as an asset class but perhaps more, the underlying technology saying things like it's going to provide more economic empowerment and more access.