Ben Brown reports on why Airbnb is expanding into flight booking services and experiential travel with the launch of its new Trips platform, taking the sharing economy to the next stage.
The first thing you notice about Quinn is his twisted knot of dreadlocked, surf-matted hair. He calls himself Adventure Man, and he’s a local at Venice Beach, California. Quinn knows all the best hangouts, and he’s usually seen with a group of explorers in tow.
After a morning on the beach, Quinn takes the group of travellers out to the State Park to spend an evening around a bonfire. They camp under the stars and in the morning it’s time to stamp out the fire and head back to the beach. A personal surf lesson is on the itinerary, followed by brunch with a group of local surfers.Quinn is a local guide and surf instructor, but this isn’t the type of trip you’ll find in a guidebook. He hosts his unique travel experience through the new Trips platform from Airbnb.
It’s a new feature designed to change the way we travel and experience new places. Forget the bus tours, long queues and rip-off tourist haunts, Airbnb seeks to embrace the more magical and personal travel experiences.
As well as hitting the waves with a gnarly surf bum, you can choose from hundreds of unique experiences all over the planet. Have you ever wanted to fight with Samurai swords in Japan? How about a lesson in Burlesque dancing from a professional performer? Or spend a few days in a recording studio with a professional musician?
With Airbnb, you can.Globetrender recently reported on this shifting trend towards “living like a local” when travelling, and Airbnb is the driving force behind this change. “We want to make travel magical again by putting people back at the heart of every trip,” says Airbnb CEO, Brian Chesky.
World domination from Airbnb
The renegade start-up that enables visitors to rent a room from locals is expanding its focus, and traditional travel companies should be worried.
Airbnb has already backed the hotel industry into a corner. In fact, Airbnb’s estimated worth is now US$30 billion. That’s higher than Hilton’s, at US$23 billion. But the next phase of Airbnb’s masterplan will take it beyond accommodation and cement it as one-stop, holistic travel agency.
“Until now, Airbnb has been about homes,” said Chesky. Now it aims to help you plan an entire vacation, not just find a place to crash.
Airbnb will become the Swiss Army Knife of travel, combining accommodation, car rental, experiences, insider knowledge and – crucially – flights.
Going head to head with Expedia and co?
Airbnb’s recent Keynote unveiled this new era in style, focusing heavily on the new Trips feature. However, it was what they didn’t say that was most intriguing.
During the speech, Brian Chesky showed the audience a teaser video of the new Airbnb app in action. Within the app was an icon with the image of a plane, titled Flights.
Is Airbnb about to add flight search and booking functionality to its service as well?
According to a report by Bloomberg, yes. The roll-out is likely to be at least 18 months away, but this may be a game-changing development in travel booking. If executed well, Airbnb will allow users to book flights, accommodation, trips and experiences all in one place.Of course, this is not new. Expedia, Priceline and even Google has this functionality. But, none do it with the personal recommendations, insider information, and local experience of Airbnb.
Some established companies are brushing off the threat. Kayak’s CEO, Steve Hafner, said: “I’m not really worried about Airbnb getting into flights.” He’s half-right to be nonchalant; the bookings sector is hard to crack. Even TripAdvisor has struggled to make its new flight booking feature work financially.
Having said that, hotel companies had the same flippant attitude towards Airbnb when it first launched. Look how that turned out.
The 21st century package holiday, from Airbnb
Over the last decade, the traditional package holiday has been torn apart by modern tech start-ups. Booking travel has become more of a DIY buffet, picking individual flights, hotels, trips and services from as many as four or five different websites or apps.
Airbnb will keep it all in one place and put personal experience at the heart of it all. “Everything we do will be powered by people,” boasted CEO, Chesky. It’s an interesting path to take when other travel companies are racing to install artificially intelligent chatbots, robots, and automated websites.The established travel industry underestimates Airbnb at its peril. Just last year, the company grew faster than expected, and crushed hoteliers’ share of the market. “Airbnb usage has increased more than we thought it would and cannibalisation of traditional hotels has been higher,” a recent report from Morgan Stanley said.
We wouldn’t bet against them doing the same thing in the flight booking sector. For now, we’ll be watching closely, and possibly booking an Airbnb Trip with dreadlocked Adventure Man, Quinn.