Airbnb offers new luxury options, user benefits

Airbnb on Thursday unveiled new luxury options and added benefits for its most frequent users — both landlords and travelers — including a new “Super Guest” program set to roll out this summer.

Over the course of the year, the home-sharing company’s highest-rated hosts, dubbed “Super Hosts,” will get access to new perks including personalized URLs for their listings and discounts on smart home products from vendors like Nest, CEO Brian Chesky told a crowd of Airbnb users and media in San Francisco. When the Super Guest program gets off the ground later this year, it will offer 10,000 guests access to special benefits such as airport pickup and exclusive activities.

Chesky also introduced new categories that will allow travelers to search for homes that have specific features, such as a rustic home with a balcony that is owned by a musician. They will also let people find homes that are best for certain types of trips, whether they are traveling for work or traveling with family.

Chesky also unveiled a new “Airbnb Plus” option, which offers an array of homes he called “insanely nice.”

The news is the latest attempt by Airbnb to diversify its product offerings and transform what was once a scrappy startup into a mature company with staying power and the ability to eventually go public. At the same time, Airbnb also is struggling with regulatory setbacks. In San Francisco, for example, after initially fighting city officials, Airbnb in May agreed to kick hosts off the platform if they didn’t register with the city — a practice the company put into place at the beginning of this year.

It was just over a year ago that Airbnb first branched beyond its trademark home-sharing platform with the launch of Experiences, a portal that lets travelers book activities led by local residents. Earlier this month, Airbnb tapped Belinda Johnson as its first chief operating officer, elevating her from her former role as chief business affairs and legal officer. Last month Airbnb appointed its first independent board member — former American Express CEO Ken Chenault. And Airbnb, which, like most startups, has been tight-lipped about its financials in the past, has promised to provide greater transparency by releasing its first annual stakeholder report in March.

The changes are part of Airbnb’s long-term strategy, which Chesky laid out in a recent blog post.

“We think that a company should survive to see the next century, not just the next quarter,” he wrote. “A 21st-century company should eventually become a 22nd-century company.”

Despite its focus on Airbnb’s future, Thursday’s event also echoed Airbnb’s flashy November 2016 unveiling of Experiences in Los Angeles. There, in a bold move that signaled Airbnb was no longer threatening just hotels, but had shifted its target to the entire travel industry, Chesky explained how travelers can use the Airbnb platform to book exotic activities not found in any guidebook.

Over the next year, the program expanded from 500 experiences in 12 cities to more than 5,000 experiences in 58 markets around the world — including a Salsa dancing lesson in Havana, a visit to a wolf sanctuary outside of Seattle, and the opportunity to learn hatmaking in New York City. Experiences is growing more quickly than the initial home-sharing platform did, with more than 10 times the number of bookings as homes had at this stage in its growth, according to Airbnb.

And it’s on the verge of making the company money. The Experiences feature is on track to be profitable by the end of 2019, said Airbnb spokesman Nick Papas.

All the changes have spurred buzz about a potential upcoming Airbnb IPO. But Chesky quelled those rumors earlier this month, saying would-be investors will have to wait at least a year until they can get their hands on a piece of the company.

“Let me address this directly,” he wrote in a company blog post. “We are not going public in 2018…We’re working on getting ready to go public and we will make decisions about going public on our own timetable.”

Source: mercurynews
Airbnb offers new luxury options, user benefits