Airbnb Ireland head: ‘The hospitality sector is seeing terrific growth’

10 Apr 2019

Aisling Hassell. Image: Airbnb

This week on Leaders’ Insights, Airbnb’s Aisling Hassell discusses the rise in popularity of experience-based travel.

Aisling Hassell is vice-president of community support at Airbnb, leading a team focused on supporting every element of the guest and host experience on Airbnb. She is also site lead at Airbnb’s Dublin office, its largest base outside of the US.

Prior to joining Airbnb, Hassell was director of global customer experience and web strategy at Sage. She has also held senior customer experience roles at both Vodafone and Symantec in Europe and the US.

Describe your role and what you do.

I look after the global community support team, which comprises operations teams across 25 sites around the world and product teams across three sites in the US. The community support team helps our community whenever they have issues, questions or need general guidance.

How do you prioritise and organise your working life?

I have an incredibly talented executive assistant, Klara, who keeps me on the straight and narrow. We are practically joined at the hip! We plan out several months in advance, and then have a weekly sync to discuss the upcoming week.

In terms of prioritising my time, it is a mix of broad meetings to discuss programme and operational delivery as well as one-to-ones with my direct reports.

What are the biggest challenges facing your sector and how are you tackling them?

Our sector is hospitality, which in general is seeing terrific growth. We are seeing travellers flock to the platform who really want to live like a local and take part in authentic, sustainable and diverse travel experiences. Our community is powered by hosts, who provide their guests with this unique opportunity to travel like a local.

We continually meet with policymakers around the world and are proud of the fact that we have worked with more than 500 governments around the world on clear rules and measures to help hosts share their homes. In Ireland, we want to be good partners to authorities, and work together to help people share their homes and follow the rules.

What are the key sector opportunities you’re capitalising on?

One key trend we are seeing is people with capital-intensive assets like homes and cars looking for ways to monetise them, and in many cases help them to afford them in the first place. In Ireland, the typical host earns €3,500 annually by hosting on Airbnb for 37 nights a year, and 70pc of hosts are sharing their primary home. During times of rising housing and living costs, Airbnb is an economic lifeline that helps local families afford their homes.

Another key trend is that travellers really want something different from the mass-produced, packaged-tourism offer. They are seeking more experience-based travel, and one that really helps them see a different culture in its entirety. Our Home Hosts are filling this desire, as are our Experience Hosts, who share their passions, local knowledge and inside track with travellers.

‘I believe in leading from the front, so I ensure I am working as hard as – or harder than – anyone else on the team’

What set you on the road to where you are now?

I suppose my second job, which was in the tech sector and which took me to Los Angeles. While at that company, I was fortunate to try out roles in varied departments, which gave me a very well-rounded, COO-type view of how a company operates. Having always been a customer advocate, I gravitated to using this knowledge to help companies do better to serve their communities.

What was your biggest mistake and what did you learn from it?

Not buying a fabulous dress that I saw in the Brown Thomas sale the minute I saw it as I didn’t want to try it on. Going back two hours later to find it gone. Always trust your impulses.

How do you get the best out of your team?

I believe in leading from the front, so I ensure I am working as hard as – or harder than – anyone else on the team. I also believe in empowerment, so I hire fantastic people and trust them to do an amazing job. Lastly, if there are issues, I will be right there to help solve them.

STEM sectors receive a lot of criticism for a lack of diversity in terms of gender, ethnicity and other demographics. Have you noticed a diversity problem in your sector? What are your thoughts on this and what’s needed to be more inclusive?

At Airbnb we want to create a world where anyone can belong anywhere, at a time when it seems that so much global attention is focused on what divides us and makes us different. It’s important that we are focused on bringing people together, connecting people and creating a global community.

One of the most important things we do in the workplace is to recruit, retain and develop a diverse population of employees. We’ve also made a conscious decision to change our recruiting and hiring models to establish a more diverse workforce.

In terms of the Airbnb community, we are committed to building a more diverse and inclusive workplace at Airbnb by listening to our internal community. Our goals, initiatives and commitments to action are shaped and strengthened by these employee voices. We are working hard, but we know there is more work to be done.

Who is your role model and why?

I was hugely impressed by Michelle Obama after she became First Lady. She kept her personality, handled challenges with grace and really put her own stamp on that role. Not an easy thing to do in the shadow of someone like Barack, but I think she knocked the ball out of the park, as our American friends would say.

What books have you read that you would recommend?

My daughter bought me a book recently and although I was sceptical at first, I enjoyed reading it, and amazingly am putting some of the meditation skills into practice!

This Works: How to use Mindfulness to Calm the Hell Down and Just Be HappyPaddy Brosnan

What are the essential tools and resources that get you through the working week?
  1. I live and breathe on Google Docs and Calendar, so if I lose Wi-Fi I am toast!
  2. My personal trainer Adrienne from No 17 Gym, who keeps me on the straight and narrow, even when I am on the road, with a handy training app.
  3. My husband, who puts up with my insane schedule.
  4. My kids, who make me realise why I do this, and who are super-tolerant of having a ‘working mum’.

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