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Airbnb Moves Into the Travel Guide Business

The start-up unveiled two new initiatives that, if they work as planned, will make Airbnb a destination for all things travel related.
Airbnb CEO and co-founder Brian Chesky speaks at a press event Tuesday, Nov. 13 in San Francisco.
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For Airbnb, it's all good in the hood.

At a press event Tuesday morning in San Francisco, vacation rental start-up Airbnb--which has grown to become a database of accommodations in 26,000 cities and 192 countries--announced that it wants to go beyond simply helping people find a good place to sleep; it's making a major move into the travel guide business.

The company launched "Airbnb Neighborhoods," a feature designed to give travelers a more personalized--and comprehensive--understanding of local neighborhoods. 

"We've polled our users and they've told us that location is the most important criteria [when traveling]," Airbnb CEO and co-founder Brian Chesky said. "So we have a problem. What if we could match you with a perfect neighborhood for you?"

The idea is to help users decide which neighborhoods within a city they would enjoy most. For example, you can filter by museums, restaurants, and transit options when exploring a city on Airbnb. The feature, which goes live Tuesday, will be rolled out in 300 neighborhoods in seven cities around the world.

Within San Francisco, the company is also launching a pilot program, Local Lounges, to identify Airbnb-vetted cafes, restaurants, and stores. The program has been rolled out in 10 establishments in San Francisco--mostly cafes and restaurants--that display the Local Lounge sticker identifying it as Airbnb-approved and a good spot for travelers to eat, drink, recharge cell phones, and hop on WiFi.

This latest endeavor for the company was clearly not a cheap one. Earlier this year, Airbnb acquired NabeWise, a hyperlocal neighborhood guide. Ann Montgomery, the start-ups's founder, is heading Airbnb's Neighborhood initiative.

In order to complete the project, Airbnb flew teams to each of the neighborhoods around the world to study what makes each one unique. The company then hired local writers to create content in the area's native language and even hired an in-house cartographer to hand-map the neighborhoods.

So far, Airbnb's expansion has mainly focused on its international efforts. In March, the company acquired Crashpadder, a London-based start-up where users can list homes. But Tuesday's product launch suggests that Airbnb views itself as more than simply a marketplace for accomodations. With Neighborhoods and Local Lounges, Airbnb is beginning to establish itself as a more comprehensive guide for travelers--a potentially lucrative, albeit crowded, space. If Airbnb gets its way, it could potentially rival travel industry stalwarts like Fodor's, Lonely Planet, and TripAdvisor.

"On Airbnb not only can you find unique spaces, but now you can actually connect with these communities all around the world," Chesky said.




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