Why your parents are better at Airbnb than you

Australians love to travel and they love to host. 

It’s this open, travel mindset that has paved for Australia to become a jewel in airbnb’s digital crown with more than 40,000 listings on the platform. Surprised? So was I.

Attending the host conference at the Sydney Opera House I was fascinated to look around and see a room bursting with baby boomers. I assumed our laggard parents, in full swing of retirement would have been attending the opera, rather than furiously note-taking, using pen and paper of course. Their hunger for knowledge and resourcefulness opened my eyes to huge opportunities amongst the grey economy by using technology to create connection.

The secret ingredient? Trust.  

Trust isn't something sold through advertising. It has to be built through interaction and great design. This got me thinking; what has Airbnb done to capture the minds and hearts of Australian baby boomers? More importantly, what lessons could we apply to other businesses?

Interaction builds community

At the heart of Airbnb's success is undoubtedly how they fuel community. While their ads do a stellar job of making us believe we can ‘belong anywhere’, it’s their online experience, designed for building trust and connection that makes us actually believe them.

One of these cues is confirmation signals such as green tick or smiley face to indicate progression encouraging users to fill out their profile and get comfortable with injecting their personality into their listing.

Airbnb’s comforting language peppered throughout the site like ‘welcome home’ cements these feelings of trust. This shifts it from faceless digital brand to a new friend. This is likely to be a radically different experience for baby boomers than their previous interactions with tech companies.

By participating in something, we change behaviour.

As a marketer, the hardest yet most important task is to encourage participation. Although Gen Y’s may have an active ‘social’ network, personal recommendations are really important to boomers. Airbnb has tapped into their behaviour by giving an incentive of $135 for a successful host referral. While that sort of money sounds insane for acquiring users, Airbnb has instilled trust in it’s hosts and are ready to reward them for recruiting active users.  

How can you delight me? 

Often it’s not obvious, but generosity and subsequent feelings of delight fuels connection. It’s all the seemingly little things your brand can do to make someone feel known, important and that they are getting so much more from having your product in their life.

Airbnb does a fabulous job with design and copy but brings it home with surprising freebies making the brand feel real. One of these features is their offer of professional photography free for every host. This takes the stress out of baby boomer’s minds that they won’t successfully upload beautiful photos and won’t get booked. 

Replacing moments of stress with joy is key to building a thriving business.

Another way Airbnb delights its users is by randomly selecting and featuring them as heroes in their campaigns. In the busiest streets of Australia and around the world, billboards featuring everyday stories of how hosting has helped them achieve their dreams through this unexpected income stream. While this brings a genuine face to the brand, it also builds morale amongst baby boomers who can relate to the faces and stories displayed around the city. 

Dreams stimulate demand

Granted, not all businesses operate in a category as sexy as travel.

However, pretty much every business can stimulate demand by tapping into dreams. One way Airbnb does this is by inventing weird and wacky categories and promoting them on the market. One example is seasonal discounts on all treehouses and tepees used stimulate demand in typically flatter periods. 

These wacky concepts make people curious and get them to think outside their normal holiday. This tactic works particularly well for baby boomers who have more time on their hands, higher dispensable income and a growing appetite for experiences that are out of the norm. It also is SEO gold as bizarre keywords can grab attention and drive traffic to your website for often quite reasonable prices.


I don’t know about you but ‘20% of tree houses’ perks my interest.

Another way to play with dreams is by being inventive with competitions. Airbnb have done a fabulous job with this by taking unthinkable locations and turning them into a home for the night. My personal favourite was the transformation of Fenway stadium, home of the Boston Red Sox into a liveable space for the night. The couple who won have been married for sixty plus years and were over joyed to spend the night in a place that means the world to them. 

What I’ve learned is that Australian baby boomers are not technophobes. If anything, digital brands need to work a harder to be more human; to create experiences that signal success through simple interactions and create a personality we can trust.