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Airbnb Partner APIs: Connecting hosts to millions of travelers

BIGGER PICTURE | How do Partner APIs align with your company’s mission? What problems are Partner APIs solving?

Airbnb is connecting travelers looking for a place to stay (demand) with people offering a place to stay (supply) through its technology platform, with the mission to create a world where anyone can belong anywhere. Now, if you want to allow anyone to find a place to stay anywhere in the world, you need to be able to offer travelers the places to stay that they are looking for. Travelers might be looking for spaces that people are sharing in their homes, or more professionally managed vacation rentals, bed and breakfasts, boutique hotels or even tree houses. This is why supply growth is so critical to Airbnb’s mission. And this is where Partner API’s come into play!

To help accelerate supply growth, Airbnb allows third party software providers to use Airbnb’s Partner APIs to basically build an extension of the Airbnb product functionality and offer it to hosts through their own third party software. For instance, hosts can then set prices, manage reservations, or message guests through a professional property management software, in addition to using the Airbnb website or mobile app.

Partner API’s play a critical role in contributing to the company’s mission. On the one hand, Partner APIs allow Airbnb to partner with third party software providers that already have an existing customer base (hosts), so it’s faster to enter and grow in markets globally. On the other hand, Partner APIs allow Airbnb to enhance the hosting experience for hosts that manage multiple listings and attract new types of hosts that otherwise would not consider hosting manually on Airbnb due to the sheer scale of their business.

AUDIENCE | Who are you building Partner APIs for?

Over time, Airbnb’s community evolved. New types of hosts with multiple listings in unique supply categories such as vacation rentals, bed and breakfasts, and boutique hotels emerged. However, professional hosts in these new supply categories are used to streamline their property management operations with more sophisticated tooling such as third party software, in addition to using the Airbnb tools directly on the website or mobile app.

This is why Airbnb developed the first version of the Partner API platform in 2015 with the goal to give hosts with multiple listings the option to use more professional property management software and enhance their hosting experience. Just two years later the software partner program was launched. Since program launch, +200 software providers connected with Airbnb and helped shape the Airbnb Partner API program and platform.

There are several ecosystem partners that need to be considered:

Obviously, hosts have multiple options to rent out their space. It typically starts by a host manually listing a space on a booking site such as Airbnb, or a host’s own website. As professional hosts start to manage multiple listings and cross-list inventory on different booking sites, some hosts prefer to use additional software to make property management easier. This software is called property management software and there are different types that differ in the service level they provide to hosts:

  • Property Management System (PMS) typically offers a standard backend software

  • Channel Management System (CMS) typically offers a channel distribution software

  • Vacation Rental Management Companies (VRMC) or Host Management Companies (HMC) typically offer end-to-end property management, which includes cleaning, guest communication and guest support.

Likewise, guests also have multiple options to find a place to stay. A very common option for guests is to book on travel sites such as Airbnb or Online Travel Agencies (OTAs). Many guests prefer such sites because they offer more flexible search and a standardized user experience. Some travel sites even distribute supply to Meta Search Engines (MSE) through Partner APIs so that MSE’s can access real time inventory and generate guest traffic for the sites.

PROGRAM | What does the Partner API program look like?

Software partners can integrate with Airbnb in two ways:

  1. Partners can either connect directly with Airbnb by using the Partner APIs, or

  2. Airbnb connects the partner through a middleware that’s called Partner hub.

Only a few partners get connected through the Partner hub, and most partners connect directly.

To manage the Partner API program, Airbnb leverages two unique internal functions that no other product team at Airbnb has: Integration Engineering and Partner Management.

  • Integration Engineering provides tiered technical support, manages integration health, drives new feature adoption, onboards and certifies new partners and provides critical product feedback. Integration Engineers are different from Platform Engineers, who write code and develop new Partner APIs.

  • Partner Management provides tiered partner account management, develops growth strategies and manages partner success.

CHALLENGES | What are some of the learnings over the years?

  • Bending the growth curve: We’ve made significant investments to make software partners more self-serve to avoid having to add resources incremental to the program growth. For instance, we standardized the partner onboarding process by defining integration requirements and implementation validation checks. This reduced the partner onboarding time by 75%, allowed us to onboard 2x more partners during a given quarter, and reduced the number of partner incidents and tech support tickets. Another example was our investment into partner self-serve diagnostic tools and documentation, which enabled partners to self-troubleshoot. This reduced tech support tickets by +30%.

  • Maintaining healthy integrations: In addition to improving our internal workflows, we also introduced new tools, processes and documentation to help our partners operate more smoothly. For example, we defined thresholds for healthy integrations, introduced an automated partner altering system (in case of high error rates) and installed internal workflows to proactively monitor and reach out to partners if something breaks.

  • Introducing Partner APIs as a “5th client”: Due to the nature of Partner APIs touching a lot of product surface areas and being just another presentation layer like web and native clients, the amount of breaking changes increased as teams were rolling out unexpected changes and new validations, which unexpectedly broke workflows. We’ve introduced our Partner API platform as a new client, just like iOS, Android, MoWeb and Desktop Web is, so all internal Engineering teamSs at Airbnb started to become aware of this presentation layer. This was critical to reduce our incident rate, bug depth and tech support ticket volume, which in turn significantly improved our overall partner sentiment. In addition, we’ve established internal escalation channels and organization relationships, introduced proper incident management workflows and tooling, and established internal goalie rotations.

AUTHOR | Learn more about the writer

My name is Florian (Flo) Andes, I am the Technical Program Manager of the Partner API Program & Platform at Airbnb. I joined Airbnb in 2016, not long after the Partner API Platform inception in 2015, and right before the software partner program launched in 2017. At that time, the Partner API team had 3 Software Engineers working on a pretty controversial idea - to allow external software companies to connect with Airbnb. Nobody at that time on the team had done this before and Airbnb was still considered a travel site for private rooms. In a way, we were cereal entrepreneurs, just like our founders when they started Airbnb. Fast forward, the program attracted an active partner community of industry leading software providers across the globe.

Being part of the Airbnb Partner API since the early days of the program has always been something very special to me. This role allowed me to participate in hyper growth with the opportunity to build an entire technical program from scratch, as well as contribute my part to the bigger company mission of creating a world where anyone can belong anywhere. These two things combined in one role are very unique to find. Frankly speaking, Airbnb is a very special place for me. I’m looking forward to connecting and growing with like-minded people in the industry.

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