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Airbnb’s Tara Bunch is laser-focused on post-pandemic user experience

The Global Head of Operations for Airbnb is No. 2 on this year’s Queer 50 list.

Airbnb’s Tara Bunch is laser-focused on post-pandemic user experience

Tara Bunch admits leaving Apple to join Airbnb just weeks after the pandemic halted travel didn’t look like a logical decision—at least not on paper. But after meeting cofounder and CEO Brian Chesky, she knew she wanted to be a part of the company’s future.

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“The more I spoke to Brian, the more I met the team, the more I felt like this is where I belonged,” recalls Bunch. “It was obviously a tumultuous time. I felt like I could help bring the company out of that tough time and help it get on a trajectory where we would be ready to take it public later in the year.”

At Apple, Bunch was vice president of AppleCare, where she led a 55,000-person team, serving billions of customers. Previously, she spent more than 15 years at Hewlett-Packard, rising to senior vice president. As Airbnb’s global head of operations, Bunch oversees customer service, trust and safety, and payments for hosts and guests in more than 220 countries.

While she’s always been an avid traveler (one of her favorite destinations is Hawaii), Bunch had no experience in the industry. “There were a lot of dynamics going on that first year,” she says. “Initially, the business kind of collapsed for a few months on the front end of COVID. But then it started coming back over the summer. And it came back in a big way.”

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Instead of flying off to a distant location, people were taking road trips and staying in Airbnbs, combining a vacation with remote work. The New York Times reported that “home rentals have outperformed hotels in 27 global markets since the onset of COVID-19.”

“We had a lot of new people to the platform,” says Bunch. “For me, the first year was learning about what we could do better to improve the guest and host experience.”

For example, Airbnb introduced AirCover for hosts in Fall of 2021, providing up to $2 million in liability and damage coverage. For Spring 2022, it’s launching AirCover for guests. Airbnb is also improving its safety capabilities, focusing on preventing parties and fraud.

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One of the reasons Bunch says she joined Airbnb was the opportunity to be part of its IPO in December 2020. “There’s a lot of operational and process muscle that you have to build as a company when you go public,” says Bunch. “I’m proud of how we’ve operationalized this last year. When you tell the street your forecast for the next quarter, you need to hit it or exceed it.”

In the first quarter of 2022, Airbnb beat expectations, reporting 102.1 million bookings with revenue of $1.5 billion, surpassing pre-pandemic levels.

The company found away to help the war in Ukraine this spring as well. Airbnb, like many companies, suspended its operations in Russia and Belarus in early March, but it didn’t stop there. The company began offering short-term housing for free for up to 100,000 of those fleeing Ukraine, and created a way for hosts to welcome refugees or donate to the cause.

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Values are the main driver for Bunch when she chooses to work with any organization, she says. “Working in a company where our values align is really important,” she says. “One of the things I love about Airbnb is that they’re a values-driven company, and they live their values.”

Bunch says she joined HP because it was one of the first corporations that had an active pride organization. “I felt like it was a safe place for an LGBT employee to go,” she says.

In November 2021, Bunch joined the board of directors for Vanguard. “They believe in diversity and inclusion, and they believe in the environment and making positive impacts on reducing emissions and carbon footprint,” she says.

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Now that she’s in a position of influence and a leader, Bunch makes a point to give back. “I want to ensure that I’m someone that’s showing up as a role model for our employees,” she says. “I’m a mentor to our employees, and I’m supporting our AirPride and Trans@ [employee resource groups] to help develop that next generation of LGBTQ talent and leadership.”

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