Airbnb, the San Francisco company best known for its online marketplace for listing and booking short-term housing accommodations, is expanding its brand beyond people’s homes and into the local businesses that make up a neighborhood.
At a press event this morning, along with announcing a new product called Neighborhoods (read more about that here), Airbnb debuted “Local Lounges,” a pilot program launching in San Francisco that will affiliate select cafes and local shops to the Airbnb experience and welcome visitors to the neighborhood.
It works like this: If someone sees a blue Airbnb “Local Lounge” sticker in the window of a cafe and mentions it to someone working there, they will get a friendly greeting: “Welcome to San Francisco, let me know if I can answer any questions for you about the neighborhood.” They will also receive a free neighborhood travel guide filled with crowdsourced recommendations from Airbnb contributors. Right now there are 10 cafes in San Francisco that are part of the Local Lounge program.
According to Airbnb’s Local Lounge product lead Marc McCabe, there was a “pretty stringent vetting process” for the businesses that it is including in the Local Lounge pilot. These places must have things like longer opening hours and guaranteed Wi-Fi to ensure that Airbnb travelers will associate the Local Lounge icon with a “warm inviting space” and a local connection to the neighborhood they’re visiting.
McCabe says that in the future, Airbnb plans to expand this program well beyond San Francisco and into all of its national and international markets.
This seems to be a natural continuation of the “Local Lists” feature Airbnb launched earlier this fall. Lately Airbnb has been touting how its product can actually provide a financial benefit to the cities in which it operates, contrary to the complaints of the hotel industry that claims Airbnb is dodging the kind of city taxes and regulations to which its businesses have historically had to adhere. With the launch of Local Lounges, Airbnb is making an even stronger statement that it believes its service can pay back into local economies in ways that hotels (which are often centered around only one downtown area) often don’t.