Airbnb's business model has certainly been 'disruptive' for the hotel industry, but a major factor in its success is the user experience. 

While some travel brands have yet to fully adapt to the web, Airbnb offers an excellent user experience backed up by great visual design. 

I've picked out several lessons that other travel brands, and indeed any online business can learn from Airbnb... 

Visual appeal

First of all, the site looks great. First impressions matter, and new visitors to the site see a homepage with great photography and simple, clear design. 

The use of images can inspire users, while the simplicity of the design tells them that this site will be easy to use. 

Focus on search box

There's no clutter here, and little to distract the user from the end goal of finding a hotel. 

While some other sites tend to cram as much as they can on the homepage to cover all bases, Airbnb focuses the user's attention on the search box. 

The search box is well designed too. The use of autocomplete ensures that customers don't have to worry about spelling tricky place names. 

It gets the calendar tool right too. It's simple, but ensuring that, when a customer selects an arrival date, the departure calendar defaults to the following day saves a lot of trouble.

Try booking a train on Eurostar's mobile site to see what a pain it can be when sites don't take account of such basics. 

How to use maps

The use of Google Maps here is excellent. First of all, plotting locations on the results page like this is immensely helpful, yet something most sites aren't doing. 

It enables users to see at a glance whether the locations to rent are near the city centre, beach or wherever, rather than relying on vague '10 minutes from the beach' information. 

I also love the 'search when I move the map' option, which makes it nice and easy to broaden or narrow the search radius without having to start over again. 

Neighbourhood guides

These guides are excellent.  Not only is it valuable for SEO, but this is genuinely useful content for the site's users. 

Take this overview of New York. The locals' pros and cons, and he 'known for' information gives people a quick idea of what the city is about, before exploring and finding which neighbourhood will suit them. 


I love the micro-copy used underneath each neighbourhood, giving a flavour of each location in just a few words. 

The tone is just right for the brand, while the tags provide a little more depth, and could be used as a handy search filter. 

Form design

Good web form design is all important, and can be the difference between a site providing a pleasant user experience, and being massive pain for users. 

Registration can be a barrier to purchase, but is necessary on a site like this. Airbnb keeps it simple as possible with a form that works equally well on mobile and desktop. 

Crucially, the form asks only for the essentials: name, email address and password. No need to ask for dates of birth, where they heard about the site, and so on. 

The social logins also provide an alternative, easier option for those who don't want to register in the 'usual' way. 

Use of images

Images are used throughout the site to add visual appeal, and are very effective on product/listing pages. 

Use of reviews 

Some travel sites have yet to fully embrace reviews, or have failed to use them to their full potential. 

Reviews are used well here, and it's important that people can book knowing that the host is reliable and the apartment or house is as described. 

Here, the summary of scores for various factors like cleanliness and location are very useful for potential bookers. 

Airbnb could make more use of reviews though. Here, is an example to look to, as Paul Rouke has explored recently

Reviews are a great form of social proof, and it pays to use them as much as possible. adds review scores as a filtering option when users are searching for hotels, and displays the average star rating prominently on search and map results. 

Simple checkout

Creating a great user experience is wasted if your checkout contains various barriers to purchase. And travel sites do have a habit of over-complicating checkout. 

As we've covered before, Airbnb deals with registration well, making it as painless as possible, and continues the good work with a clear and simple checkout form. 

The form is well designed, and data entry is easy enough. No unnecessary form fields or conventions on things like postcode formats.

The box on the right provides a valuable summary of room booked and total costs, while the personal touch of seeing a picture of, and being able to say hello to the host works well. 

In summary

Airbnb is by no means perfect, and there are improvements that could be made. Better social integration, making more of reviews, and so on. 

However, the site is attractive and designed with users in mind. It's very easy to overcomplicate the travel search and booking process, but Airbnb has managed to keep it simple and usable. 

What do you think? Have I missed any major issues with Airbnb? Are there other travel sites providing a better user experience? Let me know... 

Graham Charlton

Published 10 July, 2014 by Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton is editor in chief at SaleCycle, and former editor at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter or connect via Linkedin.

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Comments (6)

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Agreed, it's both gorgeous and functional. I recently booked a studio in Brussels with AirBnB, and something that could've been daunting and difficult was instead an actual pleasure. Clear pictures, good use of the hosts' personalities, and simple booking process.

about 4 years ago



Yes, also agree, it's very good on UX. I particularly like the micro-copy/tags options, they really help when searching. And the map browsing is simply great.
The only thing that I disliked as a user, was that the availability listed wasn't really guaranteed, I had to wait for the booking to be accepted. I understand the reasons behind it, but it also meant that my search for a place to stay in Italy took 5-days, with 7 out of 9 places refusing the booking although being listed as available.

about 4 years ago


Chris J. Collins

Beat me to the punch as I was going to write something similar!

What Airbnb have created is the standard that almost all hotel, hostel, etc. websites should be aspiring to in terms of user experience. As a potential visitor, it has almost all the information you need in one place, with the added bonus of reviews which you can believe in (though I take your point that there is room for improvement here). The use of imagery and reduced use of text make it very accessible and easier to navigate on devices.

Considering that what is being marketed is people's homes and not luxury hotels it's amazing how much better and more alluring this site is. It really shows the power of a concerted effort to focus on UX.

about 4 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at SaleCycle

@Chris - sorry about that!

about 4 years ago

Ivan Burmistrov

Ivan Burmistrov, Usability Expert at interUX Usability Engineering Studio OÜ

As a usability expert with 20+ years of experience I give a low mark to AirBnB website. Naturally, users rate it low too. In Change Sciences study with real users ( AirBnB website was scored low on usability and very low on conversion and engagement (Figure 1). AirBnB also had an extremely high time on task (Figure 2).

Now about your points.

(1) “Focus on search box. There's no clutter here, and little to distract the user from the end goal of finding a hotel”

No. There is a lot of clutter there, produced by rotating background photos and unnecessary and unreadable slogans above search form.

(2) “plotting locations on the results page like this is immensely helpful”

No. Maps to the left of search results are useless. See “Broker Website Platform Usability & Conversion Guide” ( “Bounce rates on map search interfaces… are much higher than "list" or "gallery" interfaces. And other measures of engagement - favoriting properties, saving searches and site registrations - drop as well” (p. 7).

(3) Form design

Placing labels inside entry fields is a usability flaw. Preselected “Tell me about Airbnb news” checkbox makes 99% of users to uncheck it.

“The social logins also provide an alternative, easier option for those who don't want to register in the 'usual' way”

In fact, AirBnB strongly encourages social login (a possibility to register with email is hidden before pressing "Sign up with Email" button). This is a serious usability flaw because users strongly prefer 'usual' registration (only 3-5% of users use social login:

(4) “Simple checkout. The form is well designed, and data entry is easy enough”

Heh. Default country is Afghanistan. "Payment type" dropdown list has a single choice: Credit card. VISA icon looks as a selected one but it isn’t. "Card Number" field is too narrow, "Security Code" field is too wide. "Apt #" field is unusual. Why they ask for "State" if you selected United Kingdom? "Book now" button is disabled until a user selects a checkbox. This is a very bad form, sorry.

I can prepare a long article about a myriad of AirBnB usability flaws for Econsultancy if this will be interesting for the editors…

about 4 years ago


Michael Miller


Thank you so much. I have been working on the "book now" button for an hour, visiting a dozen airbnb help sites. The adjacent check box is so faint, I did not even see it. Now checked, now booked. You have been such a help.


about 4 years ago

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