Wisdom at work: An interview with Chip Conley

The hospitality expert discusses his new book and why wisdom in hosting matters.
By Airbnb on 21 Aug 2018
4-min read
Updated 21 Apr 2021

We’re thrilled to welcome Chip Conley to share his reflections on the relationship between wisdom and work, and how the Airbnb Host community has helped shape his career. A longtime hospitality entrepreneur, Airbnb strategic advisor, author, and Host champion, Chip’s investment in this Host community has deep roots and a lasting legacy. His new book, Wisdom @ Work: The Making of a Modern Elder, promises to reframe the idea of growing older as an opportunity to share knowledge and become a student again.

Q: You’ve been invested in hospitality and in the Airbnb Host community for many years. How did that work inspire the wisdom you share in your new book?
Chip Conley:
“First of all, I miss our Host community. During my four years in a leadership role at the company, I loved travelling around the world while learning from our Hosts. There’s an old saying, ‘Knowledge speaks, but wisdom listens’, and I found our Host community to be skilful listeners but also remarkable contributors to the community as a whole. The ‘wisdom of the crowd’ (our global Host community) educated me quite a bit and I hope they’ll see some of their points of view represented in my new book, which chronicles why the world needs to value wisdom in a world that is increasingly dominated by technology.”

Q: What can Hosts learn from your approach to wisdom in their own hosting journeys?
“It’s been fascinating to be twice the age of the average employee at Airbnb during my five and a half years in the company (the last year and a half as a consultant). I’ve done my best to be a champion for our Host community and especially those who are a little older. Brian and his co-founders really appreciate that Hosts 50 and older receive the highest Airbnb guest-satisfaction scores of any demographic. There may be a few reasons for this: more time to focus on their hosting skills, growing emotional intelligence (a key feature of great Hosts) as we age, and maybe a longer-term commitment to hosting as a means of creating retirement income. I don’t think any age group holds a monopoly on wisdom, but it is a quality that one can cultivate and harvest over time.”

Q: How has the concept of hospitality changed, or not, for you from your 20s, 30s, 40s, and beyond?
“When I started Joie de Vivre Hospitality in my mid-20s (1987), the company was one of the first boutique hotel companies in the US. We were proving that a growing number of travellers were looking for more of a personalised, localised hotel experience. Interestingly, we changed the title for our front-desk agents from ‘clerks’ to ‘hosts’, so the idea of hosting has been in my blood for 32 years. Over the 24 years I was CEO of that company, we created 52 boutique hotels, and it became clear that the big global chains wanted to start looking more like boutique hotels (more attention to design, better restaurants and bars, more focus on local experiences, etc.). When I joined Airbnb as the Head of Global Hospitality and Strategy, I saw this new home-sharing wave as being the boutique hotel innovation writ large, as technology allowed Airbnb to take this localised hospitality focus and make it global. When Brian Chesky approached me to join the company five and a half years ago, he asked, ‘How would you like to democratise hospitality?’ And I think that’s what Airbnb and our amazing Host community have done.”

Q: What’s one piece of advice you would give a new Host as they start out?
“The common quality of our best Hosts around the world is a combination of being very organised and very welcoming and empathetic. Those are different qualities, and some Hosts may be better at one than the other, but those who can master both – sometimes it’s a couple who combine those qualities – will be very successful.”

Q: What’s next for you, Chip? What do you want this next season to hold for you?
“I continue to be a strategic advisor to Brian and his senior team. My process of writing Wisdom @ Work helped me to see how many people in middle age and beyond desire to rethink their lives and careers but how few resources we have to support people in midlife awakenings. Thus, I’ve created the world’s first midlife wisdom school, the Modern Elder Academy, dedicated to providing the place and the tools to start reframing a student’s lifetime of experience. It’s a beachfront campus one hour north of Cabo San Lucas in southern Baja, Mexico, so I’m back in the hospitality business again. We have people coming to join us from all over the world.”

To read more about Chip’s book and the Modern Elder Academy, visit his website.

Information contained in this article may have changed since publication.

21 Aug 2018
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