Increasing scrutiny and regulation of Airbnb's home rental services, in addition to its yet-unannounced but impending IPO, is leading the company to diversify its offerings.
Airbnb is expanding its services and turning itself into a digital travel agency. ‘Trips' is a new feature that will "make travel magical again," the company announced on Thursday.
Brian Chesky, the Airbnb CEO says the company is no longer just about home stays, "Airbnb is … bringing together where you stay, what you do, and the people you meet in one place."
Airbnb says ‘Trips', currently featuring ‘Experiences,' ‘Places,' and ‘Homes,' will also feature ‘Flights' and ‘Services' in the future. The service mirrors what travel agencies used to do before the growth of online flight and hotel booking web sites cut into that industry, and will compete with the likes of booking.com, tripadvisor.com, cheapflights.com and dozens of others.
Speaking at the start of Airbnb Open, a three-day employee gathering, Chesky suggested the company wants to become a one-stop destination for travellers. "If you want to travel, you basically end up on a research project," he said, telling the audience "We want to fix this."
Airbnb has faced criticism for everything from being an agent of gentrification to turning a blind eye to racism. The company has taken steps to address complaints of discrimination by announcing a "zero tolerance" policy for renters denying housing to people based on race. It denies playing any role in gentrification and homelessness, even though critics say Airbnb spaces decrease the availability of housing and increase prices.
This has not stopped some cities, such as New York and San Francisco, to closely examine the company's practices and, to some extent, restrict them. In both cities, the hotel industries believe that the company cuts into their profits.
For a company whose income depends on commission from fees, Airbnb's expansion into a full-service travel app may benefit its bottom line. The company will take a 20 percent cut of the fees "experience hosts" charge, The Wall Street Journal reports. For home rentals, in addition to a 6 to 12 percent service fee from guests, the company takes a 3 percent cut from property hosts.
Founded in 2008, Airbnb is Silicon Valley's second most valuable private company after Uber. The company, valued at $30 billion, has not made a profit yet.
Chesky told WIRED magazine the company is trying to become a publicly traded company "as soon as possible". However, he also suggested there was no rush, that Airbnb's investors are "very happy for us to stay private. And we agree that when it's best for the business we're going to do it."
‘Trips' is currently available in 12 cities, from Amsterdam to Vancouver with around 500 Experiences, activities that are designed and led by locals, ranging from a Samurai Swordplay workshop to Truffle Hunting in Tuscany, for example. ‘Places' includes tips from locals for what to do when you get to your destination, as well as audio walking tours.