Airbnb took a first step toward shifting its identity from a home-rental business to a full-service travel company, unveiling additions to its website and mobile applications that will give travellers tools to plan their entire vacation.
The new service, called Airbnb Trips, helps people make restaurant reservations, book city tours and find guidebooks created by notable locals, including Malibu, California, surfer Kelly Slater. Customers can also purchase concert tickets and make travel arrangements, with Airbnb taking a cut of sales.
The new features were unveiled by Airbnb Chief Executive Officer Brian Chesky at the startup’s annual conference in Los Angeles. “Homes are just one part of a great journey,” Chesky told a crowd of hosts and reporters at the Orpheum Theatre. “We need to create a holistic travel experience that focuses on the entire trip.”
The makeover comes at a controversial time for the eight-year old San Francisco startup, which was valued at $30 billion by investors this year. Airbnb is struggling to define itself as policy makers around the world complain that the company violates local laws, displaces residents and raises prices in the long-term rental market. Airbnb has said it’s just a conduit for user-generated content, and it can’t police its users, some of whom are landlords listing multiple dwellings on the site. This week, San Francisco regulators voted to allow Airbnb hosts to rent their residences for no more than 60 days in a year.
The updated Airbnb app and website will include tabs for “experiences” and “places,” alongside the traditional home-booking service. Experiences will allow people to book excursions like off-road motorcycle trips in Los Angeles or truffle tasting near Florence, Italy. Places will act as a guidebook, where hosts and local tastemakers will offer their advice on often overlooked travel experiences outside traditional tourist destinations. Trips will also offer audio tours of local neighborhoods provided by Detour, a startup created by Groupon founder Andrew Mason.
The Trips service will launch in a dozen cities. Next year, the initiative will expand to 39 more worldwide. One market that is curiously not on the Trips platform with no plans for integration in 2017: New York City. It’s one of Airbnb’s largest markets, with 50,000 homes and apartments available to rent. However, the company is in the middle of a regulatory scrum in the state, which recently passed legislation that punishes hosts for renting their homes for less than 30 days. Airbnb has filed a lawsuit over the matter.
Trips also constitutes something of a philosophical shift for Airbnb. Previously, anyone could post their apartment or home on the site, as long as they complied with Airbnb’s terms of service. The guided tours and events posted to the service, on the other hand, will be closely scrutinized and approved by the company. “As we’ve gone more mainstream, that’s a different set of expectations than the early adopters,” said Nathan Blecharczyk, Airbnb’s chief technology officer and co-founder. “So we needed to provide some guardrails.”
Travel services could help Airbnb differentiate itself from competing home-booking websites HomeAway and VRBO, owned by Expedia Inc., and TurnKey Vacation Rentals. Airbnb’s new service aims to give guests a more polished level of service, similar to that of a hotel concierge. It will also allow Airbnb to act as a curator of lifestyle and design content.
News by Bloomberg, edited by Hospitality Ireland