CEO and Co-Founder Brian Chesky announced this week that he “will live on Airbnb.” Starting in Atlanta, he will live at Airbnbs around the U.S. Or as my cousin put it, “He’s not just the president, he’s a resident.”
Chesky joins fellow vagabond billionaire and hotel owner Nicholas Berggruen, who according to the Wall Street Journal was “without a house, a car or even a wristwatch.” Instead, the bachelor billionaire “hopscotched around the globe living out of hotels, and on a recent sunbaked Saturday afternoon, home was the Hotel Cipriani, perched at the edge of Venice.”
The concept of the CEO mingling among Airbnb hosts, Prince and the Pauper-like, is not a new idea either. A popular ‘reality’ show highlights undercover bosses. And 35 years ago, the late Sy Syms trumpeted the humble brag that he was not just the president of Hair Club for Men, he was a client.
According to Airbnb, “Brian living on Airbnb will help us improve the design of the experience for people who can now live anywhere.” Whether Brian will be “undercover” or a known and catered-to guest wasn’t spelled out.
When Chesky moves from Airbnb to Airbnb, will he document the highlights of each experience in song and story? Will he highlight the glorious eccentricities of fellow guests, like those of previous generations of hotel dwellers? Or will Airbnb try to show a business face, the soul-crushing normalcy of the ‘work from anywhere’ COVID-fueled ‘revolution’?
Chesky (@bchesky) launched his hero’s journey with a 12-tweet Twitter thread on January 18. “Starting today, I’m living on Airbnb. I’ll be staying in a different town or city every couple weeks
2. This week I’m in Atlanta. I’ll be coming back to San Francisco often, but for now my home will be an Airbnb somewhere
3. Why am I doing this? I think the pandemic has created the biggest change to travel since the advent of commercial flying
4. For the first time, millions of people can now live anywhere
5. Remote work has untethered many people (obviously not everyone, but a large chunk) from the need to be in an office every day
6. We’re seeing this in our data. From July to September 1 in 5 nights booked on Airbnb were for stays of a month or longer, and nearly half of nights booked were for stays of a week or longer
7. In the past year, 100,000 Airbnb guests booked stays of 3 months or longer
8. In 2022, I think the biggest trend in travel will be people spreading out to thousands of towns and cities, staying for weeks, months, or even entire seasons at a time
9. More people will start living abroad, others will travel for the entire summer, and some will even give up their leases and become digital nomads
10. Cities and countries will compete to attract these remote workers, and it will lead to a redistribution of where people travel and live
11. This trend is kind of like a decentralization of living, and it’s changing the identity of travel
12. So that’s why I’m living on Airbnb. It’ll be fun, but more importantly it will help us improve the experience for people who can now live anywhere.
Katherine Doggrell, author of Checking Out: What the Rise of the Sharing Economy Means for the Future of the Hotel Industry, says, “It’s unclear whether Brian Chesky will be travelling as Brian Chesky or undercover, but his comments about digital nomads imply that he is doing this less as a consumer test and more to prove the point that it is possible to live one’s life as a slightly more upmarket sofa surfer.”
She added “Part of Airbnb’s strategy is to at least appear to be ahead of trends – only a few weeks ago Chesky claimed that customers wanted to pay using cryptocurrency – and digital nomads are this season’s Millennials.”
In the release highlighting Chesky’s travels, Airbnb noted that in the 12 months through September, more than 100,000 guests booked stays of 90 days or longer.
But historically, people who choose to live in hotels tended to glory in their eccentricities, rather than see themselves as “untethered” office workers.
The actor Richard Harris spent the last seven years of his tumultuous lie living in London’s Savoy Hotel. The singer of “MacArthur Park” is best known today as Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius in Gladiator (2000) and as Dumbledore in the first two Harry Potter films.
The boisterous Harris loved being ablate ring a bell and get someone to put his clothes away or make him a sandwich at 4AM. For this he was willing to pay £6,000 (about $9000 in 2002 dollars) a week. As he told a British newspaper, “If you’re paying the mortgage on a home, you can’t ask the bank manager to fetch you a pint.” While being carried out of the hotel on a stretcher before he died, he joked, “It was the food.”
While Airbnb describes such long-term stays as a “travel revolution,” it is not, says Checking Out author Doggrell. “The massively wealthy have always moved between homes, as the travelling salesman moves between motels and those on temporary assignment use serviced apartments. And living in hotels has been done by the well-heeled for as long as the industry has existed. We look forward to tales of Chesky commandeering the piano at 3am for one last cocktail and show tunes before bed.”