Tech Giants Want to Own Your Summer Vacation

One thing that is not lacking nowadays are product announcements in the online travel sector.

Over the past two weeks, both Airbnb ABNB -5.77%

and Uber Technologies UBER -3.28%

announced major, multi-level platform updates, ostensibly to better serve consumers and make them more comfortable using its platform as pent-up travel demand soars. The changes are just as important to their bottom line as it is to tourists’ sanity.

A survey published earlier this month by travel guide website Vacationer found that more than 80% of Americans say they plan to travel this summer, 45% more than once. Expedia Group‘S

EXPE -6.02%

The CEO, Peter Kern, recently said he expects the busiest travel season ever. The World Travel & Tourism Council forecasts U.S. domestic travel and tourism spending this year will exceed $1.1 trillion, surpassing pre-pandemic levels by more than 11%. Spending on international tourists in the US could reach nearly $155 billion.

Unfortunately, demand is only half of the equation. On a first-quarter conference call, Expedia’s Mr. Kern described their home-stay platform Vrbo as “somewhat limited in supply.” He said he expects Vrbo to sell out at many of its top locations during the summer.

By contrast, Airbnb says it has more supply than ever before. During a quarterly call earlier this month, CEO Brian Chesky said that while his platform is expected to see plenty of demand for the summer, it’s not short of accommodation any night of the year – “not even closed”. At least not yet: In what Mr. Chesky calls “the biggest change to Airbnb in a decade,” his platform introduced three new features last week in Catalog, Split Stays and AirCover, All of which will help the company better control its own supply before the expected number of customers.

For example, if you want to go to Lake Tahoe, on July 4th like everyone else in the Bay Area, Airbnb may not have exactly what you want as long as you want it. But now it can direct you to nearby areas or to multiple Airbnbs available for parts of the same trip and still run your business. To someone who lives in a densely populated city like San Francisco, a trip to Tahoe may seem like “No Grid”. Now, Airbnb wants to diversify your imagination and business, showing you listings instead in remote deserts, the Arctic, or even underwater.

Influencing the consumer journey to try to serve them more is not a new angle for the home stay giant. Airbnb has called its legacy “Flexible Me” feature “important,” allowing the company to direct demand where there is supply.

On Monday, Uber unveiled a bunch of new features for both its Mobility and Delivery, including Uber Travel. Just like Concur’s TripIt did, Uber Travel will let you import travel details like flight and hotel information from your email to build you a travel itinerary in Uber’s app. For consumers, this new feature adds convenience and upfront pricing. But it will also give Uber an opportunity to schedule rides for the first and last leg of a rider’s trips to help ensure it has the necessary capacity.

Supply issues are one of the biggest problems for riders as demand recovers from the pandemic. Lyft‘S

Shares fell earlier this month, losing 29% in a single day, after the firm said further investments in driver supply would come. Uber was quick to assure its investors that it would not need significant incremental incentive investments to maintain a healthy driver supply. Investors have to hope it’s because they’ve invested in the technology needed for them to better manage what they already have.

Lake houses and gig drivers are hot items right now. It can be cheaper to lure more business out of an existing supply than it is to pay to create it.

Write letter for Laura Forman at

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