Airbnb awards largest contract in language industry

Airbnb announced this morning a suite of new and expanded services, among them a new translation engine to improve guests’ and hosts’ user experience.

The new Translation Engine is designed to provide homeowners and guests a seamless experience in more than 60 languages through a sophisticated machine learning process. By automatically translating listing descriptions and reviews, Translation Engine removes the need for click-to-translate buttons, providing a simpler and more intuitive experience for all Airbnb users.

Airbnb Head of Localization Salvo Giammarresi first envisioned the new system in 2018 when he was interviewing for his position. It was an immense undertaking, aligning more than 100 people across several teams and countries.

“While our team had the vision, set the direction, and built the Translation Engine technology in partnership with Translated, we needed to partner with all the teams that managed product flows where user generated content was being ingested and displayed,” Giammarresi said. “It definitely had its challenges, but it’s so rewarding when you see the final product and hard work the team accomplished.”

Italian LSP Translated worked with Airbnb to create a custom solution using their ModernMT engine with the support of highly skilled human translators to enable the technological breakthrough. Although no figures were disclosed, the volume of translations involved in this effort would place this contract among the largest in the history of the language industry.

“For Airbnb, 2021 has been a year of relentless innovation to refine our core service,” said Brian Chesky, CEO and Co-Founder of Airbnb. “With the Airbnb 2021 Winter Release, we’ve delivered more than 150 upgrades and innovations this year. Our design-driven approach means that we’re constantly improving our service to adapt to this changing world.”

Translation Engine was announced alongside more than 50 upgrades to the entire Airbnb platform, including the AirCover damage protection service, new accessibility options, verified Wi-Fi connection speeds and more. It signals an ambitious new era for the company as the world emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic and travel begins to escalate. The services are also designed to accommodate individuals who take their work on the road, using guaranteed internet speeds and other services to travel more often — or even perpetually — as so-called “digital nomads.” 

“The world is undergoing a revolution in how we live and work,” Giammarresi said. “Technologies like Zoom make it possible to work from home. Airbnb makes it possible to work from any home. And as a result, consumers are demanding a newfound flexibility.”

According to the company, 20% of nights booked between July and September were for stays of a month or longer, and 45% booked for at least a week. Company executives believe this signals a sea change as individuals redefine travel for a new decade. 

“For the first time ever, millions of people can now travel anytime, anywhere, for any length, and even live anywhere on Airbnb,” said Chesky. “This is a travel revolution.”

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Note: An earlier version of this article misstated the MT engine involved in Airbnb’s new services. It has been corrected. In addition, the article has been expanded to include information from Airbnb Head of Localization Salvo Giammarresi. 

Cameron Rasmusson
Cameron Rasmusson is a writer and journalist. His first job out of the University of Montana School of Journalism took him to Sandpoint, Idaho as a staff writer for the Bonner County Daily Bee. Since 2010 he's honed his skills as a writer and reporter, joining the MultiLingual staff as Editor-in-Chief in 2021.

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