Business

Airbnb appoints former Burberry boss Angela Ahrendts to its board

Airbnb has appointed Angela Ahrendts, the former Apple retail head and Burberry chief executive, to its board, as the company best known for short-term rentals seeks to become a fully fledged travel brand.

This is the first new corporate position for Ms Ahrendts since she left Apple in February after running its retail stores for five years. The tech group had hired her at a time when it was trying to reposition itself as a luxury brand with the launch of the Apple Watch and establishment of partnerships with Hermes to sell its wearable device.

Ms Ahrendts touted Apple stores as “town squares”, emphasising community events, and expanded the iPhone maker’s footprint to new cities and countries — although the changes left some Apple customers unhappy about wait times and customer service quality.

She previously ran Burberry for eight years, where she was credited with reviving the British fashion brand by winning over younger consumers through digital marketing and improving the in-store experience.

“Angela has a reputation for pushing brands to dream big, and she told me that’s exactly what she hopes to bring to Airbnb’s board,” said Brian Chesky, Airbnb chief executive and co-founder. “She has led global brands through transformation, completely redefined the retail experience, and done it all while putting customers and communities first.”

Her appointment as a non-executive director comes as Airbnb is seeking to become a full-service travel provider, and gearing up for an eventual initial public offering. In recent years, Airbnb has been expanding beyond its original business of connecting people with rooms to rent in homes. The site now also offers travellers luxury listings, boutique hotels, sightseeing activities and transport.

“I am elated by the opportunity to join Airbnb’s board of directors at this important phase on the incredible journey of the company and its community of hosts and guests,” Ms Ahrendts said, noting that she has known its co-founders — Mr Chesky, Joe Gebbia and Nathan Blecharczyk — for years.

Airbnb is hoping her experience building global brands will be a boon as it eyes international growth, and new sources of revenue and customers.

The San Francisco-based company made its biggest acquisition to date in March, with the purchase of the hotel booking site HotelTonight. It also recently invested at least $100m in Oyo Rooms, the SoftBank-backed Indian hotel franchise, and has announced plans to develop luxury apartments in partnership with one of New York’s biggest real estate groups.

At the same time, Airbnb is seeing increased competition to its core business from publicly listed rivals Bookings Holdings and Expedia. Last month, Marriott International, the world’s largest hotel operator, launched a “Homes & Villas” platform promising to offer more than 2,000 homes in 100 destinations across Europe, the US and the Caribbean.

Ms Ahrendts, who also sits on the board of Ralph Lauren, becomes Airbnb’s third independent director alongside Ken Chenault, the former American Express chief executive, and Ann Mather, a former executive at Walt Disney and Pixar. She is the second woman on the board, following a pledge by Mr Chesky last year to add more female directors.

Additional reporting by Tim Bradshaw in London

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