Seismic shift: Airbnb will let hosts sell tours and activities

Airbnb was essentially always about being a marketplace to let home-owners earn some extra money by renting out a spare room or an entire property. But the model is slowly changing.

This evolution has seen apparent value-add things such as Wish Lists and the recent Neighbourhoods functionality (to learn more about what’s going on in a particular area of a city), but there have not been any significant changes to the core proposition.

Perhaps until now.

About six months ago, just before its acquisition of LocalMind, Tnooz Node Daniele Beccari speculated how the Neighbourhoods functionality might develop – but it appears the first signs are now beginning to feature on the site.

Earlier this week a Tnooz reader alerted us to what they presumed was an error on the site, how a host was also selling day tours around Vietnam.

“Obviously their filter isn’t catching this stuff,” the reader wrote in an email.

Whilst this particular host also seems to using Airbnb for quite a lot of OTHER activity (reviews on the profile indicate she has captured some business for own online travel agency for hotel stays and activities in various destinations, for example), fundamentally the member is using the site to sell non-accommodation services.

Surely some mistake?

Airbnb inked a deal with activity provider Vayable in late-2011 so that users could receive ideas of things to do in a location via an email ahead of their visit.

But that’s just CRM up-selling.

It turns out that that what was thought to be just a cheeky bit of opportunism on the part of the host in Vietnam, which had slipped through the net, is now permitted on the site.

This is a fundamental switch in the model at Airbnb: any host can effectively become a tour guide (and sell that as a service), either directly to an existing member staying at their home or, crucially, act as an intermediary to those providing activities in a destination, as in the case of the Vietnamese host.

An Airbnb official confirms it in an email:

“Since launch we have seen people use Airbnb in many different and unique ways.

“Whilst providing hosts a platform to rent out their spare space and travellers a way to book it remains our core offering, we don’t want to discourage anything that provides more meaningful trips and better travel experiences for our community.”

Such a change in what Airbnb is now offering to members could send a slight shiver down the spine of the countless person-to-person marketplaces in travel experience which have sprung up over the past few years.

Why? Airbnb has volume. Lots of it.

If a tour provider wants to muscle in on that network of upwardly mobile Airbnb fans then, in theory, it simply has to register as a host on the site and start selling a few rooms and then its other products.

Alternatively, behind the scenes, it could partner with some of the existing hosts so that they can start “selling” product on their behalf.

But, similar to a number of issues which have clouded the Airbnb model throughout its history, could firstly be the prying eyes of regulators but also potential implications for consumer protection and liability.

Acting as intermediaries for a tour or running an activity themselves throws up all sorts of problems around insurance and responsibility on behalf of hosts.

Or, indeed, Airbnb itself.

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Kevin May

About the Writer :: Kevin May

Kevin May was a co-founder and member of the editorial team from September 2009 to June 2017.



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  1. Bob

    I’ve noticed, since I used AirBnB a few months ago for the first time, that I now get robocalls and text messages from Florida (321-403-1376 is one such number), trying to sell me a “free cruise.” I don’t appreciate getting such calls on my cell phone since I am charged for such calls. So wrong, Gautam, AirBnB aren’t smart guys, nothing alienates me from a company quicker than being barraged by sales pitches and commercials. I will never use their service again, I just wish I could get these stupid calls to stop, I guess I have to change my number now. Thanks for nothing AirBnB, btw AirBnB service charges are too high, too.

  2. Nomadic Matt

    Coming soon: Nomadic Matt’s drinking tour of NYC

  3. Gautam

    My very deep thoughts:

    AirBnB – smart guys, impressive company.

  4. Greg Solovyev

    IMHO, this is a very natural development for AirBnB. As a long time AirBnB fan and user, I have met many BnB hosts who already sell T&A as oficial affiliates or even as travel agents. Many others have relationships with local providers and drive traffic to them. I think this is a very smart and natural move on AirBnB’s part. This move shows that they are listening to their users and are being smart about expanding into new verticals.

  5. Bill

    Thomas I agree. More local options are always for the best

  6. Barbara

    Let’s not get excited here. It’s one example of a professional travel agent showcasing a limited selection of tours alongside their hotel rooms – different market to the stuff you get from P2P tours.

    It doesn’t look like a new product feature as such – the tours are set up as accommodation for example, and if was a new revenue stream for AirBnB then it would be losing out. We know that most tours are still booked in destination, and in this particular example I think it highly unlikely that the transactions will occur via AirBnB. The bio even encourages them to contact direct with an email and phone number to discuss bookings. Like Kevin says it does look like a bit of opportunism, it looks more like AirBnB testing waters by permitting it rather than any strategic move. I’ll be watching with interest though.

  7. Thomas Crook

    This could be a big deal for local entrepreneurs and travelers alike. For example, on a recent trip to Yangshuo China, I ran into a self-employed english speaking tour guide named “Sally.” She ekes out a living by riding her electric scooter along tourist-frequented bike paths and similar locations and offering tourists deals and guidance to local attractions. If she could reduce the time she spends soliciting business on her scooter and engage clients through Airbnb, I expect she could significantly increase her customer base and income. A quick check on Airbnb shows that there are already a few B&B listings in her area, so it’s not out of the realm of possibility.

    Airbnb’s new service is something travel consumers like me would buy. I have almost zero interest in packaged tours, but I don’t mind engaging the services of local guides to get their insights and contribute to the local economy. Until now, the difficulty has been finding them.

  8. Christopher Lukezic

    Hey Kevin,

    While I think your headline might be a little overreaching it is cool to see that people are so passionate about providing authentic experiences for the travelers they host through Airbnb.

    What you are witnessing is a unique use of our platform by someone to provide a great experience to travelers. Our core and sole product offering remains as a place for travelers to find unique accommodations offered by hosts around the globe who have extra space to spare, as I stated earlier.

    The host you highlight also has a number of properties and unique accommodations available for rent throughout the greater Hanoi area, including boats. Some of those boats are even used for tours!

    Just want to clarify this for your readers!



    • Kevin May

      Kevin May

      @christopher – thx for chiming in…

      Your Vietnamese host is a travel agency! 🙂

      We think this is an interesting move. And while you say, and we agree, the core proposition remains accommodation, an experience is THE reason people travel, right?

      Makes sense to offer the service.

    • Joel Thibault

      There are too proposal for chauffeured car rentals by companies (found some in India). Proposed as an “entire home/apt”.. So either it may be good to adapt the proposed service (why not! it may be very convenient to find all kind of services in one platform like airBnB) or have a kind of better checking of products managed in the platform.

    • Psycho

      Christopher, it’s nice to see you on Tnooz.
      I came over your profile on Linkedin about a month ago and thought that it would be interesting to be connected. Can you share your email for me to write a short note about me or just send a quick note to my email
      Thank you.

  9. Psycho

    And at the same time they’re bringing ID verification to make the website more trustworthy:

  10. RobertKCole

    The democratization of selling travel just lurched forward. This could get interesting. Potentially ugly & complicated, but you gotta love disruption.

    Just wait until little cartels of Airbnb hosts band together to demand higher commissions, lower net rates or pricing concessions from the travel suppliers.

    What will be most interesting will be the inevitable bundling of a room & services – $5,000 for the room and Superbowl ticket. Or, as I am sure some enterprising Airbnb host will eventually try, a room a date – perhaps on an hourly basis if they really feel disruptive…

    • John Pope

      Robert, quelle surprise!

      I didn’t realise you had those types of unseemly ideas in you – you naughty boy. 😉

      But as you said, and I certainly concur, “gotta love disruption.”

    • Vincent

      +1 on that comment. Or when AirBnb buys out all the other opaque communication marketplaces and squeezes more there.


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