While Airbnb has made a name for itself over the years by giving people a change to put up their spare bedrooms and apartments for booking, the company’s latest moves signal that it’s gearing up for something bigger.
Airbnb announced on Tuesday that it would offer last-minute and weekend getaway bookings on mobile for users in San Francisco and Los Angeles. On top of that, TechCrunch spotted a few new pages on the company’s website on Friday that invited users to book “experiences”: things like walking tours and outdoor activities offered by local hosts. Airbnb said in response, “We are always experimenting with new ways to create meaningful experiences on Airbnb, we currently don’t have any updates to share,” but these new updates and experiments suggest that the company is moving beyond simply booking spare rooms and transitioning into a vacation booking platform.
It’s safe to say that Airbnb is dominating its particular niche in the sharing economy, offering properties in more than 192 countries from virtually any price point. But the company now faces greater competition from last-minute booking apps like Hotel Tonight or even traditional vacation booking sites. By offering a variety of ways that users can book rooms, including enticing them with nearby getaway spots and last-minute deals, Airbnb can take on those companies and do it without directly engaging with hotels.
Experiences are another layer to that mission. When I spoke with Joe Zadeh, Airbnb’s director of product, a few days ago, he mentioned that Airbnb is committed to finding ways to help push users over the edge and book on the website. By throwing in the allure of extra activities guided by a real local, Airbnb is could help users imagine their trip as full vacations, encouraging them to not only book but also spend more.
The real challenge will come in keeping Airbnb true to its roots. The company has relied on the sharing economy for its success, and it’s easy to strip that human element out of fast bookings and sleek vacation packages. As long as the company continues to stress that it offers a more personal, local-approved experience, it has a better shot of smoothly transitioning into an all-in-one destination booking platform.