The intersections of identity and trust inherent in blockchain with travel and travel as a counter to the isolationism of metaverse makes for interesting applications in the coming future.
Airbnb co-founder and CEO Brian Chesky has been very vocal about the future of travel and his sector of short-term rentals over the last two years of the pandemic. Usually he is in hyper-bullish territory about what he calls the coming revolution in travel, as he told me on stage at Skift Global Forum earlier this fall.
So when Verge Editor Nilay Patel went a bit off-script and asked him two questions about his views on the future of crypto and metaverse in his recent podcast interview with Chesky, it caught my eye…well, ears in this case. Worth reading his views, extracted below from the Decoder podcast.
Is Airbnb thinking about cryptocurrency?
We are definitely looking into it. Absolutely. Like the revolution in travel, there is clearly a revolution happening in crypto. Airbnb and crypto both have interesting relationships with trust. The original white paper on Bitcoin said that Bitcoin does not require trust because there is essentially a public ledger. Airbnb approached trust in a kind of similar way: we redesigned a system of trust where the reviews are the equivalent of a public trust ledger, essentially.
The founder of Coinbase was an early employee of ours. We have been following the space for quite a long time. With lots of technologies, there’s a hysteria around it. The key is when regular people understand how the new technology improved their lives, beyond the initial excitement. I’m really excited about certain applications that regular people could use to live a better daily life.
Are you thinking of accepting payment in Bitcoin to avoid currency exchanges?
At this point, this is not something that we have in the near-term plans. It is certainly something that we should be looking at. Everyone that’s handling a lot of money should be looking at this.
Holding a lot of any coin, you have a lot of volatility. One of the accounting challenges is that if you make a gain, you don’t get to realize those gains, but if you have a loss, you have to count for those losses. There are a bunch of things you have to think about if you are going to hold a lot of currency.
Here is my other buzzword question: you mentioned online/offline and how Airbnb mediates the two. You and I are speaking in the context of every other tech company in the world just saying the word “metaverse” and hoping something good happens. Is that something that you have to think about? How are you going to enable digital experiences that crossover into the real world experiences that Airbnb is currently selling?
Let me answer that question, if I may, in a kind of broad sense of the word. When Mark Zuckerberg announced the Metaverse, I think an abstraction that he said was that the internet will be three-dimensional rather than two-dimensional. I think he had a very specific vision of what that would look like. I do believe that the internet will become more immersive — there’s no question. But will the internet replace real life or just replace more two-dimensional screen time? I think, and I hope, that a more three-dimensional internet will replace a two-dimensional internet, not replace real life.
If we replace real life, then we will recreate the movie Wall-E, where everyone’s on screens, disconnected from the real world. I don’t think that’s any technologists’ vision that I’m aware of — that we never exist in the physical world. These digital experiences, to me, are gateways. There are ways for people to try Airbnb for $10 or $20. They can connect with a host without having to get on a plane and stay in someone’s home in another country. It’s a lower commitment. Generally, I like to either ride a trend or ride the opposite of a trend. The opposites of trends are always as powerful. Just to zoom out, I think we’re living in a digital revolution that clearly started decades ago.
The pandemic accelerated the adoption of lots of digitization. If you look at all the companies that did really well, they’re digital companies that are digitizing the physical world. The mall became Amazon, money is becoming crypto, hotels are becoming Airbnbs. Digital is benefiting. There is a major risk to the digital revolution: we are living in one of the loneliest periods in human history. When you take physical communities and you atomize them, they’re not always as nourishing as the physical world. No one has ever changed someone else’s mind in a YouTube comment section. When people that are different from one another interact online, they tend to argue and repel each other often and divide further.
There’s something about the lack of empathy of sitting face-to-face. The best way to change someone’s mind is to walk in their shoes — to stay in their home, go in their community. When you do that you’ll realize that it’s pretty hard to hate up close. The people you thought were “the other” are similar to you. Society spends a lot of energy, both good and bad, talking about how different and unique every one of us are, but we’re forgetting that we’re 99.9 percent the same. That’s a major risk to the world. This really exciting digital revolution that makes everything more ubiquitous, cheaper, freely accessible — it also is a major risk.
This notion of human connection and this risk of the world being isolated, lonely, and divided — if Airbnb has a reason to exist … it’s the ability for us to bring people together in the physical world from cultures all over the world. That will always be relevant so long as people are relevant in this world.