More than just rooms and homes

Airbnb adding tours and ac­tiv­i­ties

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - BUSINESS - By Bran­don Bai­ley AP Tech­nol­ogy Writer

SAN FRAN­CISCO >> Not con­tent with just rent­ing out spare rooms and va­cant homes, Airbnb is adding lo­cal tours and ac­tiv­i­ties like surf­ing lessons and pub crawls to its travel ser­vices in ma­jor cities around the world.

With the new fea­tures an­nounced Thurs­day, the fast­grow­ing on­line rental com­pany is hop­ing to tap into leisure trav­el­ers’ de­sire for dis­tinc­tive “ex­pe­ri­ences” that make them feel more con­nected with the places they visit, travel in­dus­try an­a­lysts say.

The move also shows the am­bi­tions of a com­pany that’s al­ready one of the world’s fastest­grow­ing pri­vately held firms. Airbnb, which boasts mil­lions of rental list­ings around the world, has been val­ued at $30 bil­lion — though it’s run into grow­ing pains in some cities where lo­cal of­fi­cials com­plain the boom in short-term ren­tals is re­duc­ing long-term hous­ing for res­i­dents.

Airbnb’s new guided ac­tiv­i­ties in­clude things like surf­ing lessons or cook­ing class led by a lo­cal chef, a pub crawl through a trendy night­club district or even a truf­fle hunt in Tus­cany. The com­pany has been test­ing the ser­vices in a few cities over the last year, en­list­ing lo­cal hosts as guides. It’s ex­pand­ing to 12 cities, while promis­ing 50 by next year.

“They want to be viewed as more of a travel com­pany and not just an al­ter­na­tive lodg­ing firm,” said Henry Harteveldt, an an­a­lyst with At­mos­phere Re­search. “Our re­search shows trav­el­ers spend as much as 60 per­cent of their travel bud­get at their desti­na­tion. So they want to tap into that very large rev­enue stream.”

The new ser­vices add to a set of on­line guides that Airbnb in­tro­duced ear­lier this year that list restau­rants, out­ings and other at­trac­tions rec­om­mended by Airbnb hosts. Airbnb says it will also rec­om­mend “mee­tups,” or im­promptu gath­er­ings, and other ac­tiv­i­ties keyed to trav­el­ers’ in­ter­est in top­ics like food, his­tory, mu­sic or lo­cal crafts.

Trav­el­ers can al­ready get sim­i­lar rec­om­men­da­tions from a va­ri­ety of on­line ser­vices, in­clud­ing pop­u­lar sites like Google

and Face­book. But Airbnb hopes trav­el­ers will find it eas­ier to use the new ser­vices within its own mo­bile app or web­site.

Sim­i­larly, the com­pany is part­ner­ing with on­line book­ing app Resy to let trav­el­ers make restau­rant reser­va­tions through Airbnb — in com­pe­ti­tion with ser­vices like OpenTable and Yelp.

In an in­ter­view, Airbnb CEO Brian Ch­esky said he hopes to add more ser­vices, in­clud­ing the abil­ity to book air­line flights.

Since the com­pany launched in 2008, when the co-founders in­vited trav­el­ers to sleep on an air mat­tress

in their San Fran­cisco loft, Airbnb has grown to be one of the world’s most valu­able pri­vate star­tups by col­lect­ing fees when pri­vate hosts rent out ac­com­mo­da­tions listed on the site. It’s raised $3.9 bil­lion from in­vestors, ac­cord­ing to CB In­sights, which tracks ven­ture fund­ing.

Ch­esky de­clined to say if the com­pany is prof­itable, al­though the Wall Street Jour­nal re­ported last year that Airbnb was spend­ing heav­ily to ex­pand in more cities. The news­pa­per cited in­ter­nal pro­jec­tions that fore­cast Airbnb to have nearly $1 bil­lion in rev­enue last year and to be­come prof­itable by 2020.

Airbnb has run into reg­u­la­tory bat­tles in some cities, in­clud­ing New York and San Fran­cisco, but Ch­esky said he’s hope­ful to re­solve those is­sues.

The com­pany also re­cently faced crit­i­cism af­ter re­searchers re­ported some hosts ap­peared to re­ject rental ap­pli­ca­tions from trav­el­ers whose names or pho­tos in­di­cated they were African-Amer­i­can. In re­sponse, Ch­esky has apol­o­gized and said the com­pany would in­sti­tute new poli­cies, in­clud­ing sen­si­tiv­ity train­ing and an an­tidis­crim­i­na­tion pledge for hosts, de­vel­oped with in­put from ad­vo­cacy groups and for­mer U.S. At­tor­ney Gen­eral Eric Holder.

Ch­esky said Thurs­day that he’s com­mit­ted to ad­dress­ing dis­crim­i­na­tion, while adding: “I think this is some­thing that we’re not go­ing to be able to fix overnight.”

THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Lor­raine Rorke Bader ar­ranges fresh flow­ers in a room at her home be­fore an overnight guest ar­rives in San Fran­cisco. Bader rents out the room, with a 3-night min­i­mum stay, for $120 a day us­ing the Airbnb ser­vice.

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