Airbnb announced in November 2016 the launch of their new product Trips. Airbnb will be transitioning from a pure accommodation booking company to a travel services company.
Currently, "Trips," is being tested only in San Francisco, until they decided to launch it in Barcelona, a few days ago.
This way, Airbnb believes that they can give the travelers a better experience during their stay. Something they had always done unofficially - who doesn't like meeting the hosts and asking them what's their favorite burger joint or where are the best sightseeings of the city while avoiding the touristy places? Insiders tips are a fundamental part of a complete Airbnb experience, and that's where they want to capitalize next.
On February 28th, we hosted Jeroen Merchiers at Startup Grind Barcelona in a room full of 200 entrepreneurs. Jeroen is the Director of Europe and Russia at Airbnb. He explained to us the reasons why Airbnb decided to take the lead in shaping the future of travel.
It's The Right Moment
Airbnb has been operating for over eight years not, focusing on giving their users a more ample selection of housing when they travel. From high-end lofts in Manhattan to igloos or yachts, one can literally browse through different accommodation options to his heart's content.
Having solved this problem, Mr. Merchiers says that they need to look further and give their customers what they need and anticipate the future.
Something the Airbnb customers have been consuming outside of the platform, now it'll be available on the platform, and thus the so-called "experiences" can be booked through Airbnb Trips.
Examples of experiences provided by Airbnb Trips can be from group cooking lessons to guided visits or language exchange meeting points with other fellow travelers.
Aligned with this goal, Airbnb acquired the Barcelona-based startup Trip4Real in September 2016. Trip4Real aggregated thousands of local experiences for travelers in a marketplace.
According to Merchiers, Trip4Real had over 90000 quality contents at the moment of their acquisition, but, more important than that, Merchiers wanted to incorporate the team behind Trip4Real and their experience on the field.
Besides, Merchiers had been an investor in Trip4Real, where he said he invested "in Gloria Molins, the founder because she's a really talented and driven entrepreneur."
Happiness grows any brand
The main difference between booking through Airbnb or Booking.com - or other hotel booking services - is that in Airbnb you may get the experience of living like a local.
Thousands of people worldwide avoid booking hostels or hotels and look for a private flat instead. Some want to avoid touristy areas, some want to be able to cook their own meals, while others might just want a quiet place from which to work.
While I personally use almost exclusively Airbnb for traveling purposes because I really prefer staying at a house than in a hotel.
Merchiers says their aim is to cater everyone. "Of course we're known for the ability to book a local's house and live a city like a local would do, but our goal is to provide options for people who want hotels as well. Our main principle is 'belong anywhere,' so we need to apply it everywhere we can."
Travelers often share with their friends the best highlights of the trips, but these rarely including the facilities they stayed in. Unless that is, we're talking about that fancy and sunny loft in the center of Sofia (Bulgaria) or the startup house you shared with other 15 like-minded entrepreneurs in San Francisco while you attended the Crunchies and other big events.
"Having memorable experiences," says Merchiers, "is one of the reasons why the brand has grown so much." When he joined the company, five years ago, they were 300 employees. Now, they're over 3000, with offices in San Francisco, Dublin, and Barcelona, among others.
Happiness is not only a factor that drives the team forward, but it also helps Airbnb to hire. "I joined Airbnb because I had always been part of companies where along the services line, there was an unhappy actor. In Airbnb I could find that everyone involved in the transaction can be happy at the same time, and this is very rare in the services world."
Further, Airbnb competes with the big ones when it comes to hiring developers, and that's why they invest so much in company culture, on their blog, giving back to open source community or contributing to Ruby and React Native, two of the main technologies Airbnb is built with. All these actions, and much more make developers want to work for Airbnb, Merchiers affirms.
Fits their culture
The Airbnb core principle of "Belong anywhere" is printed in everything they do. This is why they often launch very varied initiatives like the campaign to stand for refugees or Entrepreneur hosts Entrepreneur - where locals in Barcelona host the Mobile World Congress attendees.
Merchiers stated that circa 40,000 attendees (about a third of the MWC attendees) stay in an Airbnb. According to Merchiers, "Without Airbnb, the city would have no capacity for them all. There could be not enough rooms for the MWC folks without Airbnb."
Therefore, Airbnb invests heavily in spreading this feeling of universal belonging. Now, making possible to book experiences and activities through the platform, they will be able to collect more data from the users, thus improving their search criteria or suggested places for everyone.
Airbnb is, above all, a tech company, so clearly they've seen something that can be improved in the field of booking activities that competitors aren't doing or just not getting right.