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When you arrive in a foreign city for the first time, how would you like to learn about the best nearby restaurants, scenic strolls, or the jazz band that assembles every Saturday at dusk in a centuries-old plaza? From a trusted local or from a bot on your smartphone? For Airbnb, the answer is obvious: the trusted local.

Speaking today at MobileBeat 2016, Joe Zadeh, vice president of product at Airbnb, stated that only humans — in this case, Airbnb hosts — can provide authentic hospitality and help foster the emotional relationship to a new place that travelers often seek. Travel can have a transformative effect on people, enlarging their world view and changing their understanding of self. In many ways, “Airbnb is in the self-actualization business,” Zadeh said.

He cautioned those rushing to embrace bots to not overlook why people travel in the first place and said that two-thirds of trips involve crossing international borders. “Technology is not antithetical to humans but should be used to bring out more humanity,” Zadeh said. “What are the things humans can do better than bots? Human connection and hospitality. The product is the trick, the experience is staying in a local’s home.”

But Zadeh was careful not to rule out a role for chatbots in travel and hospitality. “We’re not against bots,” he said. “Their potential is in doing things that they can do better than humans, like logistical tasks and taking as much work off the host’s plate as possible, so the host can focus on personal hospitality.” Zadeh suggested that transactional tasks like check-in, check-out, transfer of keys, and the like could be handled by bots.


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Airbnb’s emphasis on the importance of humans offering insider knowledge to travelers differed sharply from the majority of announcements made yesterday at MobileBeat, where Booking.com launched a pilot for a bot to provide recommendations for in-destination experiences, Mezi unveiled a human-assisted travel bot, and SnapTravel launched a hotel booking bot.

Zadeh joined Airbnb as its third engineer when the entire product development team worked out of a bedroom in a San Francisco apartment. The company was founded in 2008 and today lists more than 2 million places to stay in 34,000 cities across 191 countries. Asked what he’s learned from his time at Airbnb, Zadeh said, “People are incredibly, inherently good.”

Here is a recent Airbnb video urging travelers to fully experience their destinations:


Stay abreast of the latest news on bots, messaging, and A.I. from MobileBeat 2016. Read our coverage here.

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