Traditionally, we’ve come to know Airbnb as a place where guests find accommodations in unique spaces, and as a platform for hosts to make extra money by opening their homes up to strangers. But over the last few months, the company has been quietly testing out a platform for connecting visitors not just with places to stay, but with new offline “experiences” to try out while in town.
Hidden away in the Airbnb site are a series of activities available in San Francisco and Paris, all of which are provided by various users of the platform. The experiences include a wide variety of guided tours around those cities, nature hikes and bike excursions to nearby areas, food and drink tastings, and classes thatare available for users to take part in.
That means pretty soon, Airbnb’s “hosts” might not just be people who make their apartments available for rent. They could also be amateur chefs, city tour guides, and instructors in various skills that would appeal to Airbnb users who are visiting from out of town.
For Airbnb, the addition of experiences would add a valuable new revenue stream, while also improving the overall customer experience for its guests. And the initiative fits in well with the company’s ambitions to become not just a hotel alternative, but also a much broader hospitality brand.
By recruiting service providers in local markets, Airbnb could further help its guests find things to do while visiting new cities. The company has already taken steps in this direction, with the introduction of its local neighborhood guides a few years ago, which helps to highlight local attractions for out-of-town guests.
But the latest effort, if it takes off, could allow Airbnb to position itself as more of an end-to-end destination for travel booking and planning, rather than just a platform for finding a place to stay. One could imagine, for instance, booking an Airbnb listing and then being shown a list of related activities nearby that could be planned during a guest’s stay.
And that could be bad news for other startups which have emerged over the years to connect users with interesting travel experiences online. Platforms like Peek and Vayable, for instance, could be affected if Airbnb ties its “experiences” more closely with its bookings. (For what it’s worth, Airbnb and Vayable once partnered to offer guests interesting experiences.)
Of course, for now Airbnb’s experiences are clearly just a test. They’re only available in a few markets, and they’re not highlighted anywhere on the site or mobile app as far as I can tell. And, as an Airbnb spokesperson writes, “We are always experimenting with new ways to create meaningful experiences on Airbnb, we currently don’t have any updates to share.”
However, the existence of those experience pages also points to the company’s larger ambitions to expand beyond just a peer-to-peer lodgings marketplace.
With a new $450 million round of funding recently closed, there’s practically no limit to what those ambitions could entail.