Airbnb, the most talked about travel startup of 2012, is taking a close look at adding local activities to run alongside the home booking service.
Some background, first of all…
Industry observers have already noticed the recent launch of the Neighborhood feature for several cities, where districts are explored with pictures and suggestions for what to see, do and eat.
Currently made of static information curated by Airbnb’s own staff, the content is inspiring, well designed and targeted to different lifestyle segments.
Neighborhood pages are provided as value-added information for visitors to the site and, of course, embed offers from hosts in each district.
The next step is to allow local hosts to provide their own tips about life in each district, therefore building a detailed and crowd-sourced city guide to find the best bakery or a free wifi cafÃ© in the area.
Behind these moves is a more general strategy aimed at building a local services platform for guests and hosts.
Here is what is happening behind the scenes.
The platform would offer two types of services. On one side, in line with the idea of helping travellers discover life and culture, Airbnb would promote local flavour experiences like personal tour guides, food or activity specialists.
Conversely, in order to help both travellers and hosts, there would be a marketplace for logistic services such as check-in and check-out, housekeeping, transportation or food delivery.
It’s interesting to note that Airbnb describe its users as high-end travellers interested in experiencing local life, therefore is not looking for mass market bus tours or boat rides.
The goal – at this stage – is not to launch a new business around tours and activities, but to build more trust in the brand and increase apartment bookings.
But, one question is whether the company could try to clone the existing person-to-person model from apartments to tours. It’s easy to imagine that all existing hosts could become local guides, and all existing guests could require local guides in destination.
According to my information and sources, Airbnb does not believe in a large business being generated from P2P tours, mainly because of the low availability of free inventory (read: time) from users.
The intent of playing around with local activities at this stage remains focused on adding value to the core home booking platform.
In the long term, however, this strategy would bring Airbnb closer to the “unhotel” concept of OneFineStay, where clients stay in privately owned apartments but can still benefit from all the services of a traditional hotel.
It’s worth remembering what many of us have no doubt heard in recent years (I cannot count the number of people who have told me):
“If I can find something on Airbnb, I never use hotels”.
The hotel industry – and now others – should continue to watch this space very carefully.