Airbnb is rolling out programs like hotel bookings and loyalty programs that make it look more like the industry it is trying to disrupt.
Airbnb, after years of battling with the hotel industry that it seeks to somewhat supplant, is beginning to look more like that very foe.
The $30 billion company unveiled Thursday a series of additions to its product that thin the lines between Airbnb and hoteliers. Airbnb said that guests would be able to book rooms through the portal in boutique hotels, bed-and-breakfasts and vacation homes, allowing its customers to have the option to nab stays on the turf of its rivals.
Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky argued that the changes were about making the service less niche and more attractive to a broader range of customers. He conceded that the company’s image perhaps scared some higher-end guests away, worrying that “people felt like it’s not for them.”
“Airbnb is still an alternative,” he said at a splashy product rollout on Thursday in San Francisco, in front of a screen that read ‘Airbnb for Everyone.’ “We still haven’t done the ‘everyone’ part.”
All told, the changes amount to a morphing of the company’s 10-year-old zero-sum ethos toward the hotel industry: Airbnb is acknowledging that the hotel industry has some draws that their platform does not, and it’s taking a step to encroach onto that stream of revenue and customers.
While some hotel rooms have already been listed quietly on the platform, the formal addition of rooms at boutique hotels or vacation rentals will pose a threat to booking competitors like Priceline and Expedia.
Airbnb also said it would create a Superguest program that sort of resembles a hotel loyalty program, expected to launch in full by the end of the year. The company will also soon offer a new luxury line of homes and experiences, called Beyond, for stays like at a remote coutryside villa.
And as part of a broader new focus at the company to clean up the lower-quality homes offered on the platform, it is also launching what it calls Airbnb Plus, a tier of properties that the company says it will have inspected in person and verified as top-of-the-line — homes that are “insanely nice,” as Chesky called them.
The company is also allowing customers to more finely cull its listings through expanded categories in the portal, such as searching for a home with rustic architecture or a host who can play guitar.
The launch comes amid recent tension at the company that forced out the company’s chief financial officer, Laurence Tosi, who was expected to take Airbnb public as soon as this year. With his sudden departure earlier this month, the company has ruled out an IPO until at least 2019.
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