Airbnb is testing a new service that will give people something to do in new cities and, in the process, forever dispel the notion that its platform is just about helping people find a couch to crash on in a kindly stranger’s apartment. It’s called Journeys, and it’s currently available as invite-only to people who want to visit San Francisco in December, but haven’t yet booked their trips.
Journeys offers full three-to-five-day travel plans to its selected testers. Through it, Airbnb will offer a free meal during each day; planned excursions devoted to San Francisco’s nightlife, natural wonders, or food scene; agent-selected rooms; and a Lyft ride from the airport to wherever the person is staying. These trips will reportedly cost between $500 and $750 for the individuals invited to use it.
Journeys is focused more on providing a good trip — think of it less as a personal assistant and more as a travel agent. The Next Web, which first revealed Journeys, compares it to the discontinued concierge service Airbnb introduced in 2011. That service was supposed to give travelers everything they could ever want, from offering advice on restaurants to locating the nearest emergency room.
The service also follows other Airbnb tests, including a service that gathered strangers together for meals in San Francisco, and another that made cleaning services available to hosts in San Francisco, New York, and Los Angeles. Neither of those services has become available to people outside the invite-only tests; Journeys could be destined for a similarly long time spent in the testing phase.
Consumers will decide if Journeys is worth the cost. People visiting a city on business, or staying in a neighborhood with which they are familiar, are unlikely to find much value in the service as it currently exists. But those heading to a diverse place like San Francisco on a lark might appreciate having someone to plan their trip for them instead of having to worry about everything themselves.
Journeys could have a larger impact, though, and that will be on the perception of Airbnb as a member of what tech executives dubbed the sharing economy.
The term “sharing economy” has always been a misnomer. Sharing implies that people are offering something without expecting anything in return. But the economy aspect of that all-too-common buzzphrase requires money to change hands, turning the entire concept into a paradox that allows companies to use it in their marketing even as they got lots of money for their “sharing” platforms.
Airbnb was founded to give people a cheap place to stay. Now it’s operating much like a hotel company — and, with Journeys, a full-fledged travel service — that doesn’t happen to own the rooms its customers are renting. This reduces overhead, allows the company to avoid training a full staff for each rental, and otherwise gives it a nimbleness that traditional lodging companies are lacking.
This convenience often comes at the expense of luxury. Billing a platform as the place to rent someone’s apartment in Brooklyn is great for spendthrifts, but the real money is in getting people to see Airbnb properties as a valid alternative to expensive hotels instead of to the Holiday Inns or grimy hostels of the world. Journeys is one step towards that goal, and one away from the sharing economy.
“We are always experimenting with new ways to create meaningful experiences on Airbnb,” a company spokesperson said when I asked for comment on this story. ” We don’t have anything specific to share at this time.”