From WFH to Work Anywhere – Including Airbnbs! Here’s How Travel Will Change in 2021


There’s no question that COVID-19 has changed the way we work, live and travel. But are we prepared to meet these changes head on? Airbnb has released a list of the top three trends they believe will shape the way we travel in the near future. To find out if these trends are gaining traction in Malaysia, we asked upcoming Airbnb host and entrepreneur, Umar Abd Aziz what he thinks about travel in 2021.

A vaccine is incoming.

On 9th November 2020, the world was rocked by the news of a possible vaccine from Pfizer and BioNTech that recorded a 90% efficacy rate based on clinical trials. A second vaccine candidate from biotech company Moderna was announced a week later to be 94.5% effective against the pandemic. To put this into perspective, the WHO has set a minimal threshold of at least 50% efficacy rate for a COVID-19 vaccine candidate.

A 70% efficacy rate is preferable. An above 90% efficacy rate could be a game-changer.

Travellers around the world seem to agree. Upon hearing about a possible vaccine, the faltering global travel industry got a boost as the share prices of airline and cruise companies rallied and tour operators saw a sudden surge in searches and bookings for 2021 – or sooner, in the case of travel site who saw a 76% increase in international travel searches for this Christmas.¹ Finally, we might be able to travel for holiday again very soon!

But will this mean business as usual for post-pandemic travel?

Experts say no. While a vaccine may make it possible for us to travel beyond our borders, we are now living in a new normal – and we expect the way we travel to be equally affected.

To keep up with these changes, Umar Abd Aziz believes the hospitality industry must adapt as well. Umar is one half of the duo behind SmartHome on Airbnb; he and partner Zharif manage 35 short-term rental spaces around the country with plans to reach 100 listings in the new future. Umar, who has a background in hospitality and marketing and previously worked with a five-star hotel, sees Airbnb as a permanent, but welcome disruption to traditional hospitality. And despite lockdowns and other challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, he’s confident that Airbnb will grow and flourish in Malaysia.

Here are the three trends that are projected to redefine travel in 2021 and beyond:

1.   From WFH to Work from Anywhere

Forget ‘work from home’ (WFH) – in 2021, people are taking their laptops as well as their families on the road. Remote working has become a norm as businesses in Malaysia and around the world were forced to close their physical offices due to lockdowns and movement control orders. Gone are the days where office workers were required to clock in every day from 9-to-5 at the office. Instead, employees and employers alike are embracing a new flexibility in how and where we work to the point that some are questioning if we really need a physical office space at all moving forward.

Remote working – as well as remote schooling – will change the traditional vacation seasons and blur the lines between working, living and travelling.

According to a recent poll, 74% of Americans already working remotely would consider ‘work-cations’ where they live and work somewhere else for an extended period of time – and nearly half of these remote workers are already searching for destinations on Airbnb.

It’s not just Americans. In a recent Airbnb survey, a vast majority of people living in Thailand (87%), Malaysia (78%), Korea (61%), Australia (65%) and New Zealand (62%) recorded an interest to live and work from anywhere. A change of scenery was the most appealing reason to work from somewhere other than home for most Malaysian respondents.

But are we equipped for this? Malaysia’s movement control orders have forced many Malaysians to work from home for most of 2020.

However, Umar points out that not everyone has access to a suitable WFH space. Some people have families (especially young children) at home who may be a distraction. Others lack the physical space to set up a workstation or stable internet. Cafés and co-working spaces also lost their appeal due to concerns over the lack of private space and the higher possibility of infection from shared spaces.

So, for those who are unable to WFH in their homes, Airbnb became a viable alternative. The Airbnb survey revealed that the main searches for Airbnb amenities include Wi-Fi connectivity and pet-friendly homes as people around the region look to combine working and travelling.

Umar confirms this; SmartHome currently manages a few long-stay bookings from guests who were looking for a private, safe, and convenient space to work. Many of their guests ended up staying as it was more convenient to stay the night rather than drive through multiple checkpoints to get home.

2.   Pod Travel is on the Rise

After being stuck at home for most of the year, we’re all itching to be able to go out and spend time with loved ones. Defined simply as a small group of people travelling together, ‘pod travel’ became a way for people who want to spend time together while reducing the risks associated with socialising with others outside the main group or ‘pod’.

Pod travel isn’t new but the reasons to travel together have changed. Instead of travelling in groups due to convenience or as a way to keep costs low, pod travel today is a way to ensure peace of mind and a sense of safety which is more important today than ever before.

This trend of communal travel extends to accommodations. Instead of staying in separate rooms at a hotel, more people are turning to short-term rentals like Airbnbs which provide more space and greater privacy. Airbnb notes that larger groups than usual are booking stays and over half of trips searched include three or more people², a clear indication that people are travelling together.

Umar shared that he’s noticed that more people in Malaysia are searching for bigger spaces to rent out. Even when the initial MCO phase ended, Malaysians were still leery of public spaces; instead, they would book private rooms to meet family and close friends. While most of his listings can accommodate up to four guests, he’s looking to add bigger spaces to his listings that can fit up to 15 or more to meet customer demand.

3.   Cleanliness and Privacy Trump Shared Spaces

It’s not just large parties who are searching for bigger, more private accommodations; even individual travellers or couples are looking for entire homes or apartments. Gone are the days of booking just a room or even someone’s pull-out couch in their living room. Entire homes have officially become the most popular listing space for 2021.

Cleanliness is the obvious concern for travellers. Just as we ourselves are taking extra steps to protect ourselves at home, travellers are evaluating their accommodation options based on what additional steps businesses are taking to protect their guests. According to Airbnb, more guests are looking for listings that offer self check-in and checkout to minimise person-to-person contact.³

We’ve also seen individual Airbnb hosts getting clever with their listings – more are going the extra mile by advertising their cleaning routines and highlighting features that allow more privacy and isolation.

SmartHome was one of the first hosts in Malaysia to change their listings to reflect the announcement of the MCO in March. Umar realised that safety and cleanliness had become of utmost priority to guests and quickly adopted a new, more thorough cleaning process as well as a promotional rate. Looking back, Umar noted initially he had anticipated losing business due to the MCO, but the changes helped his listings stand apart from the others. In fact, people were attracted by their strict sanitisation policy and picked his listings as an alternative to home quarantine or staying at hotels. It’s a policy they’ve continued to promote right up to today in the title of each SmartHome listing – creating a consistent brand that remains in touch with customer concerns.

So, Get Started Today

Many of Airbnb’s projected trends – like remote working, pod travel and the need for privacy – are extensions of the habits and interests we’re seeing emerge in 2020. And if there is indeed a viable vaccine for COVID-19, we can anticipate a travel boom in the near future.

Still, don’t wait.

Whether you’re an Airbnb host like Umar or manage a short-term rental space, now’s the time to take full advantage of these trends. Get started today, even if it’s something small like displaying your commitment to thorough sanitisation and customer safety. Take a close look at how you’re describing your listings; are you talking to customers or at them? Are you addressing their concerns? For example, if your space has amenities such as stable internet and a workstation, don’t just list these down – brand it as a ‘Work from Anywhere’ space.

No one saw the COVID-19 pandemic coming, but we can change the way we react. Adjust to the new normal. Adapt, and face these challenges and trends head on. That’s how you build a business that can keep its footing through uncertain times.

Trends are, by definition, fleeting. Pivot now to take advantage of what your customers are looking for today. And don’t forget to communicate the changes to your customers – regular engagement is key to building a strong, loyal consumer base and will help keep your brand fresh in their minds. If you want to know more about how to position yourself and your brand, drop us a line at [email protected].

  1. Travel Daily Media, 2020
  2. Airbnb, Oct 2020
  3. Airbnb, Jun 2020.