Skift Take

Magical Trips has been an open secret in the travel industry for at least a year now, if not more. But on November 15, Airbnb's head of global hospitality and strategy more or less confirmed it's finally becoming an official reality for the company.

[Editor’s Note: For a more comprehensive view of Airbnb’s new Trips product, as well as a slew of other new features, click here.]

When Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky takes the stage on Thursday morning in Los Angeles to announce the company’s biggest product news in its recent history, it’s a pretty solid bet it’ll have something to do with what the company has called, internally, Magical Trips.

Just what are Magical Trips? We don’t know all the details just yet, but Airbnb head of global hospitality and strategy, Chip Conley, recently dropped a few hints.

From what Skift has gathered from our own sneak peek into the company’s City Hosts program which debuted in June, and what Conley recently said, it appears that Magical Trips will consist of peer-to-peer like tours and activities. We also have a hunch that Airbnb could be partnering with local activity providers and communities who already provide unique experiences but may not be full-fledged, traditional tour operators.

It also marks the first time in Airbnb’s eight-year history that the company is launching “something of this size and note” and “a business beyond home sharing.”

It’s a signal that Airbnb doesn’t just want to be an accommodations provider anymore. Instead, as Conley said, “Our goal is to become the super brand of travel. We want to help people not just with accommodations but with experiences as well.”

So what makes Conley confident that Airbnb can succeed where other peer-to-peer tours and activities startups have stumbled or failed?

For one thing, he said, they’re paying attention to “curating” the tours and activities and also paying close attention to quality. That, and the fact that the very “nature of the experiences” that will be offered will be very unique and on brand to Airbnb.

“You know, the travel world is big enough for us and the big bus tour companies,” Conley said. “Some of us want the big bus tour companies. But I think what a lot of people also want is the bespoke, unique, hidden treasure experiences that they can’t find in a guidebook, and they have to ask their friends about. That’s what using technology and a community as large as ours can allow us to offer to the world that hasn’t been offered yet.”

In other words, Conley believes the tours and activities space is big enough for both Segway and big bus tours, as well as Airbnb’s more specialized Magical Trips.

When Airbnb initially launched its new global “Live There’ campaign in April, too, the company also announced it released new technology that better enables matching of guest preferences with the listings and information they see on Airbnb’s platform. No doubt Airbnb is harnessing that same technology and “matching” function to pair guests with the types of experiences they will prefer most, too.

Another advantage Airbnb has over the competition? The fact that they don’t have to spend very much acquiring customers for this product. Their global community, as it stands now, is at 100 million and counting. Not only that, but the fact that the company is worth an estimated $30 billion doesn’t hurt, either.

Beyond the Big Idea

Rod Cuthbert, CEO of Rome2rio and founder and former CEO of Viator, a tours and activities provider that was acquired by TripAdvisor in 2014, agreed with Conley’s assessment, speaking to Skift prior to Conley’s announcement.

“The challenge of getting into the tours and activities business isn’t about supply,” Cuthbert said. “It’s about access to users, about discoverability and traction. They don’t have that problem at all. That just overcomes the greatest barrier that any of the new entrants into the space have had over the last 10 to 15 years.”

Conley also acknowledged that, to begin, “We are starting small” but that the company has a “road map that allows us to scale at something larger.”

Something larger and loftier is also the main objective for Airbnb overall, too. Conley added, while speaking at the Phocuswright conference in Los Angeles. He said that Airbnb doesn’t “want to be a transactional business. Most OTAs are transactional businesses. We want to be a transformational business because margins are better, but not just because margins are better. Because we want to actually transform people’s lives.”

“Going to the Louvre or the Eiffel Tower, there are some bragging rights to that. But going to a parfumerie in a back alley that you would never have found if you hadn’t had one of our experiences, or having dinner with a collection of people — locals as well as other travelers who have similar tastes or interests as you — that’s the kind of thing people remember for a lifetime.”

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Tags: airbnb, tours and activities

Photo credit: A view of the beta site for Airbnb's City Hosts program in early September, when the selection of activities included 12 cities. Airbnb

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