Branding Travel: Our Cultural AI analyses posts from AirBnB’s instagram
Updated: May 21
AirBnB, at its core, is a property rental platform, and when we think of such platforms, “aesthetically pleasing” isn’t always a term that comes up. Instead, associations like “functional” and “useful” come to mind.
Yet, one of our team’s favourite travel accounts to follow on Instagram isn’t one belonging to a globe-trotting influencer or photography account. Instead, it’s the AirBnB account.
Keen to articulate what exactly made this account so special, we ran 200 post captions and visuals through our cultural AI. Here’s what we got:
AirBnB changes the meaning of the ‘holiday home’.
Conventionally, when we go on holiday, the hotel replaces our “Home” space.
It signifies a site of familiarity, not where we expect to be surprised or entertained. The standard hotel room layout — with a bed, mini-fridge, TV, kettle and disposable toiletries- are symbols of the familiar, expected and typical, and stand for status quo as we know it.
It is only outside of the confines of the hotel that we let ourselves experience the “adventure” and newness of the holiday destination. However, AirBnB challenges this notion, and presents the living experience as part of the new experiences one gains while on holiday.
Words like “special”, “unique”, and “creative” position the airbnb rental experience as a break away from the mainstream — a one-of-a-kind experience.
Looking at the word cloud, we also see that “local” is a top used descriptor, showing how Authenticity is a big pull factor when opting for an airbnb rental.
The Visual codes of AirBnB travel?
Comfort, Solitude, and Escapism.
Examining the semiotic clusters identified, we saw that the images we studied could be grouped into three prominent ones.
Beds, cozy duvet covers, and natural light
A big cluster of images were bedroom shots. They consisted of mid-to-long shots of bedrooms, with the bed in the foreground, windows in the background letting in natural light. Lighting in these shots were warm, creating an atmosphere of tranquility and peace.
By often foregrounding the bed in these pictures, the idea of “Rest” is made a key theme in the overall airbnb experience. However, unlike typical hotel room pictures of beds clothed in default white bedding against a backdrop of nondescript rooms, in this cluster, the room’s character was present.
The backdrops of these rooms were windows that looked out into scenery. They also were well decorated interiors, shots of backdrops displaying various textures and colours, which hence shows us that an essential part of the ‘airbnb experience’ is the touch of Difference.
Homey living spaces
The second cluster consisted of pictures of living rooms. Shots of coffee tables, sofas and dining tables feature. These shots showed living rooms with a lived-in, homey look, with books on the table, rugs and embellishments jazzing up the interiors of the room.
While striving for the lived-in, space-with-a-personality vibe, airbnb carefully curates its’ instagram feed to have an untouched vibe. As in the images from the previous cluster of bedroom images, images in this group rarely feature human subjects, just like images illustrating hotel rooms, and where they did, people were photographed from side angles or from the back.
This plays down the fact that travellers would be living in someone’s house, but just focuses on how they would be living in houses with a personal, human touch.
Nature and wilderness
The last cluster we observed were pictures of scenic landscapes — these were exterior shots of houses and cabins, against backdrops of forests, mountains, lakes, oceans and blue skies.
The emphasis on the vast expanse of nature in these shots positions the person renting an airbnb property as an experiencer, not just a customer renting a property.
Elements of nature like mountains and greenery were also complemented by the lack of human subjects in these pictures, thus connoting a sense of solitude and seclusion.
This sentiment of solitude is also seen in the results of our Emotions AI analysis.
From our Emotions model, we see that the top emotion detected in the images is solitude, followed much further on by creativity, and then affiliation.
What makes people travel today?
Most of AirBnB’s instagram images consist of re-posted pictures from customers who document their AirBnB experience. Arguably, these pictures reflect what they like best about travelling with AirBnBs.
What’s interesting to us was that in these pictures, the state of solitude is detected to be at least twice as present as all other emotion states — far surpassing happiness as well.
It makes us wonder- are we starting to travel for different reasons now?
While in previous decades, people may have very definitely decided that they would travel to find joy, or travel because it makes them happy.
As the world gets more connected digitally, the state of being alone and disconnected becomes more and more a coveted premium. It seems that more and more, we might want to travel simply to get lost — never mind how much happiness that experience brings us.
It is almost as if we want to sometimes be anonymous while in the middle of things. Like a local, but not quite.