Airbnb is pressing ahead with plans to expand into new travel services including restaurant reservations and city tours, transforming the company from a single-minded home-rental service to a multipurpose trip planner. The company is testing a standalone mobile app for finding and organizing travel plans, highlighting the importance of the initiative to the company.
A test version of the software is called Airbnb Trips, according to an Android app listing on the Google Play Store. The app offers access to personal itineraries with information about upcoming Airbnb rentals, city guidebooks, dining and happy hour events. A person familiar with the matter said the app's name and features could change before its release.
Offering local services could help Airbnb differentiate itself from HomeAway, VRBO and other room-booking websites. Airbnb hopes to provide a more personalized touch akin to a hotel concierge -- or, at least, the rack of brochures by the counter. Bloomberg reported in March that Airbnb has referred internally to the initiative, including plans to sell add-on services, as "magical trips" and that it's one of the company's top priorities for 2016.
Airbnb released a new version of its main app in April that added neighborhood travel guides. The San Francisco company began running a national advertising campaign this year suggesting it will help customers feel more at home while traveling. The slogan: "Don't Go There. Live There."
Activity booking has been a promising revenue source for online travel giants such as Expedia and TripAdvisor. Startups building activity-booking marketplaces, including Seattle's Utrip and San Francisco's Peek, have attracted interest from venture capitalists. For Airbnb, add-on services could provide a new business to help justify its lofty valuation. The company filed with regulators last month to raise $850 million in a funding round valuing the company at $30 billion.
Airbnb is expected to unveil the new trips app at its annual conference in November. Technology website the Information reported last week that the company plans to roll out a program in November allowing hosts to make money by recommending restaurants and giving tours. Rumors of the eight-year-old company's interest in such a service, which would help guests find activities during a trip, have been swirling since at least 2014.
Nick Papas, a spokesman for Airbnb, wrote in an email: "We're continually experimenting with new things and we don't have anything to share right now, but we have a few exciting things in the works."
The listing for Airbnb Trips on Google's app store said the software is "unreleased" and that it was last updated on April 1. Accompanying screen shots show example agenda items called "Mission: Happy Hour," referring to a meetup in San Francisco's Mission neighborhood, and a full-day "Table to Farm" event.
-- Bloomberg News