Tech Giants Want to Own Your Summer Vacation

One thing that is not in short supply right now is product announcements in the online travel industry.

Over the past two weeks, both Airbnb ABNB 2.10%

and Uber Technologies UBER 1.78%

have unveiled major, multifaceted platform updates, ostensibly to better serve consumers and make them more comfortable using their platforms as pent-up travel demand soars. The changes are as critical to their bottom line as they are to travelers’ common sense.

A survey published earlier this month by the travel guide site the Vacationer found that more than 80% of Americans say they plan to travel this summer, 45% more than once. Expedia Group‘s

EXPE 0.47%

Chief executive officer, Peter Kern, recently said he expects the busiest travel season ever. The World Travel & Tourism Council predicts that US domestic spending on travel and tourism will exceed $1.1 trillion this year, surpassing prepandemic levels by more than 11%. The spending of international travelers in the US can reach nearly $155 billion.

Unfortunately, the question is only half the equation. During the first quarter conference call, Expedia’s Mr. Kern described its home-stay platform Vrbo as “somewhat limited in supply”. He said he expects Vrbo to sell many of its prime locations before the summer.

Airbnb, on the other hand, says it has more offer than ever. During his quarterly call earlier this month, CEO Brian Chesky said that while his platform expects high demand for the summer, it has no shortage of accommodations every night of the year — “not even close.” Not yet, anyway: In what Mr. Chesky called “the biggest change to Airbnb in a decade,” his platform last week introduced three new features in Categories, Split Stays and AirCover, all of which will help the company better its own offerings. in anticipation of an expected influx of customers.

If you want to go to, say, Lake Tahoe before July 4, like everyone else in the Bay Area, Airbnb may not have exactly what you want as long as you want it. But it can now direct you to nearby areas or to multiple Airbnbs available for parts of the same trip, and still land your business. For someone who lives in a densely populated city like San Francisco, a trip to Tahoe might seem “Off the Grid”. Airbnb now wants to diversify your imagination and your business by instead showing you listings in remote deserts, the Arctic, or even underwater.

Influencing consumers’ travel itineraries in an effort to serve more of them is not a new angle for the homestay giant. Airbnb has called its old “I’m Flexible” feature “critical,” allowing the company to direct demand to where the supply has.

On Monday, Uber unveiled its own suite of new features for both its Mobility and Delivery arms, including Uber Travel. Just like Concur’s TripIt does, Uber Travel lets you import travel details like flight and hotel information from your email to build an itinerary in the Uber app. For consumers, this new feature will add convenience and price upfront. But it also gives Uber the chance to schedule rides for the first and last miles of riders’ rides well in advance to ensure it has the necessary capacity.

Supply issues have been among the biggest problems for ride-hailers as demand recovers from the pandemic. Lyft‘s

The stock hit a crater early this month, losing 29% in one day after announcing further investment in driver supplies. Uber was quick to reassure its investors that it wouldn’t need significant incremental incentive investments to keep its own driver offerings healthy. Investors should hope this is because it has already invested in the technology needed to better manage what it already has.

Lakefront homes and gig drivers are hot commodities right now. Squeezing more sales from existing offerings can be cheaper than paying to create it.

write to Laura Forman at laura.formman@wsj.com

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