Skift Take

To be honest, we weren't very surprised by Thursday's launches. In fact, we wondered why they haven't been launched sooner. But for the most part, all of them certainly seem in step with Airbnb's plans for being much more than just about any other travel brand or company out there.

As Skift reported last week and Airbnb confirmed Thursday, the company’s newest product is Airbnb Plus. This program, which ran under the pilot name of Airbnb Select, identifies more than 2,000 Airbnb home listings in 13 cities worldwide as having particular amenities and meeting a lengthy checklist of standards for both quality and safety.

Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky announced the debut of that program, along with a number of new tools and initiatives that feed into his concept of “building a 21st century company” that is also “host-led,” as well as making it easier and simpler for people to find what they are looking for on the Airbnb platform.

Among the new developments: a long-awaited loyalty program, which is set to launch this summer with perks including discounts, last-minute booking, and access to exclusive listings.

Chesky made the announcements at a press event internally dubbed “Tomorrowland” — a nod to the co-founder’s penchant for all things Disney. (At one point, the Disney song “Bare Necessities” provided the soundtrack to a video that showed what the Airbnb app will look like this summer.) This year marks the 10-year anniversary of the company, which is valued at more than $31 billion.

The CEO delivered his presentation to hundreds of journalists and Airbnb hosts in San Francisco at the Masonic Theatre, and set out his vision for the company, saying he hopes that within the next 10 years, it will host 1 billion guests annually.

Airbnb Plus

Beginning Thursday, when someone searches for a place to stay on Airbnb, they’ll find a curated section called Airbnb Plus, which features listings that have met a 100-point quality checklist for participating, such as having a clean, clutter-free space and fast Wi-Fi, for example. That qualifications process was first reported in detail by Skift last week.

The homes aren’t necessarily considered luxury, but do generally charge higher nightly rates than most Airbnb listings. The average cost of an Airbnb Plus home is under $250 per night, while the nightly rate for a non-Airbnb Plus home listing is around $100 a night. Chesky said during his keynote that Airbnb found that 73 percent of its guests would pay more to stay in a verified home, implying that hosts who qualify for Airbnb Plus can charge more for their homes.

Consumers can find more than 2,000 Airbnb Plus homes to book in 13 cities that include San Francisco, Los Angeles, Austin, Chicago, London, Melbourne, and Shanghai. By the end of 2018, the company hopes to have a total of 75,000 Airbnb Plus homes in 50 destinations globally. For now, Airbnb Plus represents a very small portion of the company’s more than 4.5 million listings in 81,000 cities worldwide.

Airbnb Plus, which the company has been testing for at least two years under the project name Airbnb Select, has taken on many different iterations over time. The program Chesky announced Thursday was the culmination of multiple pilots, some of which offered financial assistance to hosts to upgrade their homes and some of which also assisted hosts with the interior design of Airbnb listings.

During the pilot phase, hosts were personally invited by Airbnb to participate in the program. Now, however, hosts can apply to join Airbnb Plus, and benefit from boosted search on the platform. Those hosts who join starting Thursday also have to pay one-time $149 fee to apply to be a part of Airbnb Plus.

In addition to ensuring quality and amenities, Airbnb Plus emphasizes the idea of “home meets design” — not surprising given the fact that two of Airbnb’s founders are designers. In addition to improved search, Airbnb Plus listings also give hosts access to professional photography services and, in some cases, customized design consultations.

Guests who book an Airbnb Plus listing, as well as hosts with Airbnb Plus listings, will also benefit from what Chesky called “premium support” from Airbnb.

As Skift noted last week, while Airbnb Plus is certainly innovative in the homesharing space, its conceptual design borrows heavily from the way hotels operate and manage relationships with their hotel owners and franchisees — or soft brand collections of independent hotels.

Symbolically, the addition of Airbnb Plus to the Airbnb platform represents a maturation for the company’s product mix — a sign that Airbnb is no longer simply a cheaper and less-reliable alternative to a hotel and that, in some ways, it’s beginning to resemble them. And in some cases, Airbnb is actually inviting hotels to be a part of its platform, too, or building apartment-hotels at the same time.

Airbnb Collections & Categories

The addition of Airbnb Plus to the Airbnb platform accompanies a new layout and design for the Airbnb platform on desktop and mobile, making it easier for Airbnb users to find the types of accommodations they are seeking, whether it’s a more traditional homesharing arrangement, a “business travel ready” listing, a home that accommodates families, or an Airbnb Plus type of lodging. For instance, homes identified as suitable for families and/or business travelers are now more prominently featured on the platform, making it easier for travelers to find the right accommodation for their trip needs.

This categorization of listings is being called Airbnb Collections and Thursday it debuted with 145,000 homes for families and 65,000 business travelers. The homes for both the family and work collections are also hosted by Airbnb hosts with ratings of 4.8 and above.

There will be at least nine collections denoting homes suitable for social stays, weddings, honeymoons, group travel, and even dinner parties (perhaps utilizing Airbnb’s partnership with Resy). Social stays, Chesky noted, will denote homes where hosts make an effort to be there when guests are staying with them. “The host will hang out with the guest,” he said.

Chesky also noted that Airbnb users can now be much more specific with their search criteria with different “categories,” meaning that beginning Thursday, they can search for more than just three types of homes (shared, private room, or entire home) to include vacation homes, bed-and-breakfasts, boutique hotels, and unique homes that include such accommodations as treehouses, yurts, domes, and more.

Peter Kwan, a San Francisco-based Airbnb host who attended the presentation, said he hopes that list of categories can be even more refined. “I was hoping that in expanding the listing categories, Airbnb would finally introduce a category between Entire Home and Private Room. Many hosts offer more than a private room, like an exclusive kitchen, guest’s own bathroom and/or living room. This is less than an entire home (hosts live under the same roof but separated from the guest’s space), but clearly more than just a private bedroom. A separate category for these listings would avoid a lot of confusion.”

Additionally, Airbnb is adding more features and ways for hosts to describe their homes more specifically — to denote a particular design type or feature such as a balcony or a home that’s family-friendly — to make it easier for people to find exactly the type of home they wish to stay in.

“We’re adding thousands of new categories that will make it easier for guests to find a perfect place to stay,” Chesky said. “We’re building one of the world’s largest home databases.”

One Nashville-based Airbnb host told Skift that she hopes the new changes will improve upon Airbnb’s current layout. “The abomination of a website is another issue for another time — it’s such a mess and stresses me out every time I log on, only to find they’ve changed something yet again,” she said, prior to Thursday’s announcement.

Beyond by Airbnb

And, much like a traditional hotel company, Airbnb is also segmenting its robust inventory even further with a new brand.

During his keynote, Chesky also announced the debut of a new brand called Beyond by Airbnb, which will offer luxury vacation rentals. Last year, the company purchased Montreal-based Luxury Retreats, a platform for luxury vacation rentals and complementary, personalized services. Beyond by Airbnb will comprise Luxury Retreats’ existing inventory and luxury service expertise and Airbnb is no doubt positioning it to compete with AccorHotels’ Onefinestay luxury alternative accommodations brand, as well as other major players in the luxury vacation rental space.

Judging from Chesky’s keynote, Beyond by Airbnb will be the amalgamation of Airbnb’s acquisition of Luxury Retreats as well as its Trips product, which first launched back in November 2016. Trips includes tours and activities, and it appears that with Beyond by Airbnb, those experiences will be specifically customized for guests to ensure they have what Chesky described as a “trip of a lifetime.”

Superhosts and Superguests

At the same time that Airbnb announced a new product, Airbnb Plus, that’s borrowed from traditional concepts of hospitality, the company also further defined its vision of what a “host-led world” includes. For Airbnb, that means various tools that make it easier for Airbnb hosts to be hosts, and to offer hospitality services, whether through accommodations or tours and activities.

Chesky opened his keynote by announcing benefits both for Airbnb’s best hosts as well as its best guests. While Airbnb has denoted its best hosts for some time as “Superhosts,” he said that going forward, these more than 400,000 hosts will enjoy “14 more benefits” including custom URLs for their listings, more visibility and exposure in general on the platform, and more promotion.

Additionally, he announced that Airbnb will also have a new store debuting soon that will offer products for hosts. The first such product to debut in the host store is a partnership with Nest that offers a 30 percent discount on two of its most popular smart home devices.

The debut of an Airbnb loyalty program was also announced and slated for later this summer and Chesky said it will offer “benefits across the entire travel journey” that include homes, transport, experiences and services such as discounted stays, access to exclusive inventory, and last-minute booking. He also said the company will start testing out the guest membership program this spring with a sample of 10,000 guests.

A loyalty program is something Airbnb has been mulling for some time. At the Skift Global Forum in September 2017, Airbnb co-founder Nathan Blecharczyk said the company has “certainly thought about” adding a loyalty program, but still had yet to determine how that program would work.

“I think it’s frankly surprising that at this point we don’t have that,” Blecharczyk said. “Especially at the very least I’d love to do more to recognize our loyal travelers. … I think they deserve some special recognition. We don’t have it. I think we should.”

Is Airbnb Really for Everyone?

Chesky opened and ended his announcement with the notion that Airbnb can be a company that’s “for everyone” and while the company does seem to certainly be expanding the variety of the types of homes and experiences you can find on its platform — and making it easier to sift through those 4.5 million listings — a challenge for the company remains in making sure it does involve “all of its stakeholders,” as Chesky noted in his January 25 open letter. That means not only appealing to its hosts, and its guests, but also the local communities in which it operates, which amounts to 81,000 cities worldwide.

He ended his keynote by paying homage to Airbnb’s hosts.

“Hosts create this magical world,” he said. “They have been leading the way and they will continue to lead us down the path … and I’m really excited for what the next 10 years look like.”

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Tags: airbnb, homesharing, luxury

Photo credit: Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky speaks on Thursday at an event announcing new products, including Airbnb Plus. Airbnb

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