Airbnb wants to be all things to everyone - can it succeed?
Think Airbnb is all about rooms? Think again.
Last September, the home-sharing giant teamed up with Resy to add restaurant reservations in the US.
Airbnb ‘Experiences’ now include everything from Thai cooking lessons in Bangkok to Irish dancing in Dublin.
It will soon let you book flights, too.
Then there are the smaller, Apple-style tweaks tacked on to improve the user experience. Think of the ‘Split Payments’ feature that enables shared bookings among friends and family. Or ‘Pay Less Upfront’, a new facility that lets guests spread the cost of their booking over two installments.
The scrappy disruptor has come a long way.
Ten years go, Brian Chesky (below) and Joe Gebbia created the first ‘Air Bed and Breakfast’ in their San Francisco home (it helped them pay rent). Today, ‘Airbnb’ has joined words like ‘Hoover’ or ‘Sellotape’ in the lexicon. Over 500 people work at its international home in Dublin alone, and the company is said to be worth over $30 billion — more than twice the value of Hilton, as Vanity Fair has pointed out.
Its goal? Airbnb is shooting to become a super brand of travel — a locally-fuelled platform within which you can research, book and review every facet of a trip... an ecosystem that you never have to leave.
Can it work? Going public would net Chesky & Co a fortune, but Airbnb has resisted the IPO urge (for 2018, at least) as it diversifies.
It has so far avoided the PR disasters that dog Uber, and continues to “work with” hundreds of governments on short-term letting issues.
Dublin, which Airbnb sees as a natural fit for its peer-to-peer platform, is no stranger to those rental debates.
Cool rooms are all well and good, but critics here say it contributes to rising rents for locals, and that all accommodation services should be subject to planning laws, tax policy and regulation... not just registered providers like hotels and guesthouses.
Airbnb counters that 70pc of Irish rentals are by hosts renting rooms in their primary residence (ie not commercial investors), that boutique hotels and B&Bs advertise on its platform, that it brings tourism and cash to communities, and that it worked closely with the Oireachteas Joint Committee examining the impact of short-term lettings on housing and rental markets.
Right now, Ireland lacks the clear home-sharing rules of places like London or Amsterdam. The Committee’s recommendations include a licensing system and legislation that distinguishes commercial lettings from hosts sharing their homes for up to 90 days, however, and a Working Group will report soon. Watch this space...
It’s a tricky balancing act. Short-term rentals have aways played a role in Irish tourism, and travellers clearly want local experiences. Plus, Dublin’s hotel room shortage would surely be exacerbated without Airbnb, and tourism marketing opportunities are going a-begging (last year, Sweden listed its entire country on the platform).
Whatever happens, this genie ain’t going back in the bottle.
Travel’s super brand is now a fact of life.
Read more:10 best Airbnbs: Load up your Little Black Book with these surprising rentals