Airbnb disrupted the travel industry eight years ago when it pioneered home sharing. It's hoping to do so again with Trips, a complete travel resource where you will eventually be able to book flights, accommodation, tours, restaurants, get recommendations and meet locals, all on one platform.
"Homes are just one small part of a great trip," said Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky at the announcement in Los Angeles. "We realised we needed to create a whole, holistic journey."
The new Airbnb interface launched on Thursday with three services: Homes, Experiences and Places. Other functionalities such as flight bookings will be added over time.
The expansion is aimed at helping guests get the most out of a destination by harnessing local expertise. Under the Experiences section of the website or app, guests can browse guided activities across categories like food, arts, sports and nature.
Some experiences take just a few hours, such as surfing and a BBQ in Venice Beach ($US100) or an architecture walk in Cape Town ($109). Others are multi day "immersions," such as a three day furniture building workshop in Tokyo ($115) or a two day truffle hunting excursion in Florence ($177). As with listing homes on Airbnb, anyone can apply to host an experience. Airbnb charges hosts a 20 per cent fee on experience bookings (as opposed to a 9-15 per cent fee on home bookings that's split between guests and hosts) and participants leave reviews afterwards.
"We're democratising travel by making it possible for ordinary people to take part in the global travel industry," said co-founder and CTO Nate Blecharczyk. "Airbnb provides the brand and the online tools but it's really about the people."
Under Places, users will find destination guides written by hosts as well as Airbnb-curated "insiders". These Insider Guides focus on tapping into the local scene and lesser-known areas of a city. Most are organised around a theme, such as a festival founder's favourite music venues in Nairobi, or the best selfie spots in Seoul as suggested by a photographer. This section also allows users to organise free meet-ups which are open to both locals and travellers - something that may be especially attractive for people travelling alone.
The Homes section houses Airbnb's previous business, which connects guests seeking accommodation with hosts who have space to rent. "We've learned a lot from the Homes business," said Donna Boyer, Head of Product for Homes.
"The biggest lesson is that a successful listing is less about the space itself and more about the overall hosting, hospitality and experience." Airbnb currently has 3 million accommodation listings, 87,000 of them in Australia. According to Sam McDonagh, Country Manager for Australia and New Zealand, Australians are the most prolific Airbnb users per capita compared to any other country. Over the past year 3.4 million of us were hosted, and 2.6 million guests were hosted by us in turn.
Despite such robust usage, Airbnb's new Experiences are currently only offered in a dozen cities, none of them Australian. However Sydney and Queenstown are among the 51 cities that Trips will roll out to by the end of 2017.
Airbnb is currently taking Experience submissions for those cities through its website. To be accepted, McDonagh says the activity should involve guest participation and provide access that would normally only be available to a local. "It needs to be authentic. It needs to be different to what mass tourism would promote."
Websites such as Vayable already offer "local" and "authentic" guided experiences, and while Trip's destination guides and booking services may be new to Airbnb, they aren't new to the market. But Boyers isn't worried about the field being crowded.
"There's always room for innovation," she said. "When you have the creativity to reimagine what something could look like, that's where innovation comes from." Although Airbnb is offering services that already exist, if it can deliver them in one place and deliver them well, it may do more than disrupt the travel industry again. It might actually come to dominate it.
The writer travelled to Los Angeles as a guest of Airbnb.
See also: The 15 coolest properties on Airbnb