Airbnb tours and restaurant reservations next?

SAN FRANCISCO • Airbnb Inc 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 organising 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 the company differentiate itself from HomeAway, VRBO and other room-booking websites. It hopes to provide a more personalised touch akin to a hotel concierge - or, at least, the rack of brochures by the counter.

Bloomberg reported in March that the San Francisco company has referred internally to the initiative, including plans to sell add-on services, as "magical trips" and that it is one of the company's top priorities for 2016.

Airbnb released a new version of its main app in April that added neighbourhood travel guides. It began running a national advertising campaign this year suggesting it will help customers feel more at home while travelling. The slogan: "Don't Go There. Live There."

Activity booking has been a promising revenue source for online travel giants such as Expedia Inc. and TripAdvisor Inc. Start-ups 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 US$850 million (S$1.14 billion) in a funding round valuing the company at US$30 billion.

Airbnb is expected to unveil the new app at its annual conference in November. Technology website The Information reported last week that the company plans to roll out a programme in November allowing hosts to make money by recommending restaurants and giving tours. 

Rumours 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.

Mr Nick Papas, a spokesman for Airbnb, wrote in an e-mail: "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 screenshots show examples called Mission: Happy Hour, referring to a meetup in San Francisco's Mission neighbourhood and a full-day "Table to Farm" event.

BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 18, 2016, with the headline 'Airbnb tours and restaurant reservations next?'. Print Edition | Subscribe