Airbnb Wants to Go Beyond Home-Sharing With Debut of ‘Experiences’

Berlin will from Sunday, May 1, 2016, restrict private property rentals through Airbnb and similar online platforms, threatening hefty fines in a controversial move meant to keep housing affordable for locals. / AFP / John MACDOUGALL (Photo credit should read JOHN MACDOUGALL/AFP/Getty Images)
Photograph by JOHN MACDOUGALL AFP/Getty Images

After months of rumors and two years of work, Airbnb has finally unveiled its plan to extend beyond just providing lodging for travelers.

On Thursday at its annual conference for hosts in Los Angeles, Airbnb introduced a revamped version of its app, which is now organized around “Experiences,” “Places,” and “Homes.”

The experiences section includes the long-awaited “Trips” program, that lets travelers books a wide range of activities are part of their travel plans. There are already more than 500 of these activities in 12 cities worldwide, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, Detroit, Havana, London, Paris, Cape Town, Tokyo, and Seoul, and Airbnb plans to expand to even more cities.

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Some activities are standalone, such as a hunting for truffles in Tuscany, while others are multi-day experiences. Some activities will be in partnership with non-profits. Airbnb will take a 20% cut from the revenue from activities (except those with non-profits), a bigger cut than the 3% it takes from home bookings. Half of the activities already available are priced at under $200, co-founder and CEO Brian Chesky said on Thursday.

To participate in these activities, guests and hosts will have to verify their identity by scanning a government-issued ID such as a passport or diver’s license, as well as snapping a selfie.

In the “Places” section, Airbnb is expanding its Guidebooks feature, which initially debuted in April. These guide books are collections of recommendations and tips about a city from local hosts and other influencers. Airbnb says it now has 100 of these guide books in six cities (Los Angeles, San Francisco, Havana, Nairobi, Detroit, and Seoul).

The company has also partnered with Detour—Groupon co-founder Andrew Mason’s new startup—to provide walking audio tours as an additional way for travelers to explore a city. The first audio tours are available for Los Angeles, though Airbnb will add tours for San Francisco, Paris, London, Tokyo, and Seoul in the spring.

Travelers can also find nearby meet-ups hosted by local establishments like restaurants, where they can meet other Airbnb guests and local hosts.

The “Homes” section is where travelers can book lodging—the classic Airbnb service.

Airbnb says it plans to continue to add more services, like the ability to book a car via its app, or order a delivery of groceries. The company has partnered with startup Resy, and will soon let guests book restaurant reservations during their trips.

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Airbnb is touting these new programs as the biggest move the company has made since establishing its home-sharing service in 2008. The addition of activities and new ways for travelers to explore new cities is positioning Airbnb as a tourism company, not just an alternative to hotels.

Still, whether it’s able to expand these new programs to a large enough scale without too many hiccups remains to be seen.

To date, Airbnb has raised about $4 billion in funding and is currently valued at $30 billion.

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