Tech

Tech Giants Want to Own Your Summer Vacation

One thing not in short supply right now are product announcements in the online travel sector.

Over the past two weeks both

Airbnb


ABNB 2.47%

and

Uber Technologies


UBER 2.71%

have unveiled big, multipronged platform updates, ostensibly to better serve consumers and make them more comfortable using their platforms as pent-up travel demand surges. The changes are as crucial to their bottom lines as to travelers’ sanity.

A survey published earlier this month by the travel-guide site the Vacationer found that over 80% of Americans say they plan to travel this summer, 45% more than once.

Expedia Group’s


EXPE 2.09%

chief executive officer,

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 surpass $1.1 trillion, exceeding prepandemic levels by more than 11%. International-traveler spending in the U.S. could reach nearly $155 billion.

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

By contrast, Airbnb says it has more supply than ever. On its quarterly call earlier this month, Chief Executive Officer

Brian Chesky

said that while his platform expects a lot of demand for the summer, it isn’t short of accommodations any night of the year—“not even close.” At least not yet: In what Mr. Chesky called “the biggest change to Airbnb in a decade,” his platform introduced three new features last week in Categories, Split Stays and AirCover, all of which will help the company better control its own supply ahead of an expected influx of customers.

If you want to go to, say, Lake Tahoe, for the Fourth of July like everyone else in the Bay Area, Airbnb might not have exactly what you want for as long as you want it. But it can now point you to nearby areas, or to multiple Airbnbs that are available for parts of the same trip, and still get your business. For someone who lives in a densely populated city like San Francisco, a trip to Tahoe might seem “Off the Grid.” Airbnb now wants to diversify your imagination and your business, showing you listings instead in remote deserts, the Arctic or even underwater.

Influencing consumers’ itineraries in an attempt to service more of them isn’t a new angle for the homestay giant. Airbnb has called its legacy “I’m Flexible” feature “critical,” allowing the company to point demand to where it has supply.

On Monday Uber unveiled its own host of new features for both its Mobility and its Delivery arms, including Uber Travel. Much as Concur’s TripIt already does, Uber Travel will let you import travel details like flight and hotel information from your email toward building you a travel itinerary in Uber’s app. For consumers, this new feature will add convenience and upfront pricing. But it will also offer Uber the chance to schedule rides for the first and last mile of riders’ trips well in advance to help ensure it has the necessary capacity on hand.

Supply issues have been among ride-hailers’ biggest problems as demand recovers from the pandemic.

Lyft’s

stock cratered early this month, losing 29% in one day, after it said further investments in driver supply would be coming. Uber was quick to assure its investors it wouldn’t need significant incremental incentive investments to keep its own driver supply healthy. Investors must hope that is because it has already invested in the technology necessary for it to better manage what it already has.

Lake homes and gig drivers are hot commodities now. Squeezing more business out of the existing supply might be cheaper than paying up to create it.

Write to Laura Forman at [email protected]

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