Can Airbnb become a superbrand of travel, as it has stated as a goal? Probably not without launching flights. On the other hand, Booking.com has done fairly well for itself without offering flights until now.
Well, the flights idea just got deflated.
Speaking at Skift Forum Europe Thursday in Berlin, Jeroen Merchiers, Airbnb’s managing director of Europe, Middle East, and Africa, told the audience “flights are not high on the radar right now.”
He chalked up the initial articulation of such an idea to a bit of overenthusiasm.
When Airbnb CFO Laurence Tosi was forced out of the company a couple of months ago, there was speculation that he and CEO Brian Chesky had clashed over the company’s vision for flights and trips, which became known as Airbnb Experiences.
If there was indeed a clash about launching flights, it appears as though it has been resolved for the moment.
Skift Hospitality Editor Deanna Ting, who interviewed Merchiers on stage at Café Moskau, the conference venue, asked whether Airbnb had plans to become an online travel agency.
Merchiers characterized online travel agencies — such as Booking.com or Expedia — as selling travel on a commodity basis, while Airbnb thinks of everything through a people-oriented or community lens.
“We think there are signficant differences between the two models,” Merchiers said.
He argued that it’s important for Airbnb to do things well under this framework because some 60 percent of its business comes through organic growth and word of mouth. If things aren’t done well, then the negative impact could be especially dire, Merchiers said.
Merchiers’ statement that Airbnb does not see launching flights as a priority could be of interest to competitors such as Booking.com, which is testing flights through Kayak, and is well on the way to branching out beyond accommodations and becoming a full-service online travel agency.
It also isn’t especially welcome news to companies such as Skyscanner, Hopper, or even Google, which might have looked to become a third-party provider to an Airbnb flight-product launch.
Won’t Go After Hotel Chains
On other issues, Merchiers said Airbnb won’t pursue participation from hotel chains, which already have large brands and big distribution channels, because that’s not where Airbnb can add value. He said Airbnb’s customers are not looking to the company to stay in big-brand hotels.
Turning to Airbnb’s pending Superguest loyalty program, which the company intends to launch in the fall, Merchiers said it won’t be a points-based program. He said it might have similarities to Amazon Prime instead.
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Photo credit: Jeroen Merchiers, Airbnb’s managing director of Europe, Middle East and Africa, spoke at Skift Forum Europe in Berlin April 26, 2018. He said launching flights is not a high priority for the company at the moment. Airbnb