Airbnb has been pretty disruptive to the hospitality industry by allowing guests to find non-hotel lodging provided by other human beings, like, in their house or apartment or whatever. It’s awesome! And I’m a huge fan. But today we’re not going to talk about Airbnb’s lodging marketplace, which is already hugely successful. Today we’re going to talk about Airbnb’s interest in recommendations of local places guests can check out when they’re visiting new cities.
Airbnb has quietly been getting into local recommendations, sending out surveys to its users as a way to find out which local neighborhood places its guests should check out. The hope is that by providing recommendations to guests, they’ll have a better stay, see more local sites, and check out other recommended local vendors while in town.
The program made its debut in Airbnb’s home market of San Francisco, where it began testing out the idea. To determine which vendors should be highlighted, Airbnb sent surveys to more than 20,000 registered users who live in San Francisco, asking them to provide specific recommendations in 12 different venue categories. It’s followed that up with a similar program in Berlin, and just introduced the same survey in New York City.
In each market, Airbnb has been left with a long list of users’ favorite neighborhood spots. The company narrows down the list to a few top spots per neighborhood and has worked with local artists to create limited-edition map guides of the city for its hosts and guests. Airbnb then throws huge offline events, where it invites users and some of the top local vendors to celebrate winners in each category. In San Francisco, the company had more than 900 RSVPs and nine local vendors represented at its event. And in Berlin, its second test market, Airbnb had more than 1,000 RSVPs and featured 10 local vendors.
The pilot program was called AirbnBests when it was first trialled in San Francisco, but as Airbnb is expanding to other major metropolitan markets, it’s renamed the initiative Local Lists. Now launching in New York City, Airbnb Local Lists has seen about 1,000 respondents in little more than a day since its survey email was sent out.
For Airbnb, the creation of Local Lists is a way to improve the experience of travelers who are visiting a city for the first time. Anyone who’s ever stayed in a new city recognizes how powerful curated recommendations can be to having a good trip. Airbnb guests can be somewhat at the mercy of hosts who may or may not go out of their way to provide detailed lists of cool neighborhood spots nearby.
Airbnb already allows hosts to highlight recommended local businesses on their listings pages, and a lot of them do. In my experience, many hosts also offer up their own suggestions or local guidebooks or one-page flyers of local shops and cool things to do in their neighborhood. Adding Local Lists is just one more way for Airbnb to provide neighborhood recommendations — and also, by the way, help support local businesses.
All that said, despite Airbnb being an ONLINE marketplace where guests can find lodging in cities through its WEBSITE and MOBILE APPS, the whole Local Lists project is decidedly offline. That is — these maps are distributed at local events and by community managers, are made out of dead trees… I mean, they’re hand-drawn ferchrissakes! What’s that about?
In a phone conversation, Airbnb public policy head Molly Turner, who helped launch the program, said the startup was looking to make the guidebook experience analog. “Offline viral,” even. In speaking with local vendors, Turner found that most didn’t necessarily want to be included in some online recommendations list, but preferred to be found more through word-of-mouth channels.
So don’t worry, Yelp! Or even Foursquare, as you venture further and further into that hazy recommendations territory! Airbnb isn’t going to start putting its Local Lists on its website or mobile apps yet. (Although I’ve suggested they do so and they politely told me it’s not on the roadmap.) These maps are going to sit on hosts’ coffee tables for when guests arrive, giving them something pretty to look at as they get settled in and try to figure out where they’re going to hang out in the neighborhood.