Airbnb Experiences - a Better Research

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Airbnb Experiences - a Better Research

In 2019, my boyfriend and I decided to go to Rome for a week. We didn't use Airbnb for the accomodation but for the experiences section, something that I discovered a year before while going to Tokyo. As a wine connoisseur, I wanted to enjoy a tasting of Italian wines, and I wanted something worthy, with at least 5 wines. So I went on Airbnb... Alas!

Search Bar? Which Search Bar?

NB: the present note was made in august 2021. My experience was in 2019, but things haven't changed, it's even worse I would say.

As I was on the Airbnb Experiences section, I expected some research like on any modern website. But the site gives you the opportunity to enter a location and dates. That's it!

The Experiences homepage with location and date.

Let's say I want to go to Rome and get my wine tasting again. I put some random dates. Here is the result: 582 experiences. That’s a lot!

A result page showing off 582 results that you have to browse without a proper filtering system.
The result page

Let’s see what we have here:

  • Filters: “Search for mobility attributes, sensory stimuli, support and more”. Who should have guessed that it was regarding accessibility?
  • Guests
  • Price
  • Time of the day
  • Language offered
  • Some filters hidden behind a horizontal scroll: Food and drink, Art and culture, Sightseeing, Transport activities, Nature and outdoors, Entertainment, Sports, Wellness
2 screenshots of the filters: not very readable nor usable… 

Now, want to find that nice wine tasting with a lot of wines? Well, let's try.

First, we filter with “Food and drink”, we still have 169 offers, and there is no way to filter more because there is no research available. As it is Rome, there are, of course, a lot of pasta masterclasses, but that’s not what I am looking for. If I want my wine tasting, I must browse the 169 offers of the Airbnb website. 

A deliberate choice or an unforgivable mistake?

This is my question: why did Airbnb choose not to include a research field in the experiences section? What’s their agenda? It doesn’t seem like a mistake, so why force people to look at an endless list of choices? Hoping they choose (and will pay) more experiences than expected? Maybe some customers let themselves go ("Oh, a photo tour in the city", "Ohh, a visit to such a place"). For my part, I assimilate this practice to a deceptive pattern that forces sales. And since I was not interested in pasta or risotto classes, this time spent looking for my happiness rather got on my nerves.

Airbnb “bad” Experiences

For the record, I did find what I was looking for in 2019. But it took me a while finding it, that tells you how much I wanted this tasting. I would qualify that experience as “bad”.

How to improve Airbnb in the future? 

1: Search and filter above all

  1. Definitely, I would put a search field applied to Experiences only.
  2. The current filters could get more visibility. The scroll button seems useless.
  3. If I were a UX researcher for Airbnb, I would check what people are looking for and where, so some tags could be added in the future (ie: people in Rome are mostly looking for the Vatican? Put a “#Vatican” tag next to the “Art and culture” category”)
The results page with my suggestions in image

Note: funny thing, but just before we published this post, we check again a result page, and Airbnb already has given a bit more room for the filters. Still not enough, but better. See below.

Filters are now inside the sticky header

2: Don’t stick to 1 mental model

What if I’m this kind of person who’s inspired by an activity more than a place to stay? What if I’m this kind of person who wants to discover new places based on the activity I’d love to practice?

I would personally add an “Activity” search field to focus on the actual experience a person is supposed to have on this “Experiences” tab:

  • If I plan to go to Tokyo, I certainly have some activities in mind that I would want to browse more easily to avoid a list of 396 activities.
  • If I have no idea what kind of activity I want, I can leave this field empty and go back to the current Airbnb infinite list of activities in this city.
The activity field added to the initial search form next to Location and Date.

The proposition here goes a little bit deeper into a business strategy that we are not necessarily aware of, but it seems to offer a proper solution for 2 kinds of mental models. This proposition is also perfectly combinable with the first option, offering you the opportunity to change your activity terms on the fly.

If you go deeper again in the reflection, you would find another mental model that I won’t develop here: I have a date, but don’t know what to do and where to go. It can happen when people have a forced period of holidays and want inspiration. But that’s for another topic ;)

Airbnb (User) Experiences: Some key learnings and takeaways

When you work in a company with a big user base, you often meet different types of customers/users. Ones of the strongest tools you have at your disposal here are Personae and Customer Journey Mapping (and not only “user journey mapping”) 

These tools are here to help you go beyond your own mental model and explore solutions that are meant to meet other people's needs.

Another key learning here is that if you are proposing a bunch of data with several detailed pieces of information, you should be able to filter and search among those pieces of information. Sounds obvious when I write it down, but Airbnb missed the point: full-text searching is basic we should all propose.

More reading on these topics

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About this suggestion

The suggestions we make are not made thanks to a full and proper user research. At best we did a guerilla study about user behavior. Most of the time, these are suggestions based on our own experience and needs, which don't represent necessarily all end users needs.

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