At more than three million places to stay, Airbnb has already surpassed every single hotel chain around the world. Now it wants to go after pretty much every other corner of the travel industry.
On Thursday at Airbnb Open, the company's annual "festival for hosts," in downtown Los Angeles's Orpheum Theatre, co-founder and CEO Brian Chesky unveiled the next phase of the company's future: helping users plan every element of a trip, from booking the flight to showing you around a new city.
"Travel is easy but not magical," Chesky said, because it's not hard to find canned corporate tours and such, but they rarely offer an authentic experience. And finding the good hole-in-wall joints takes a lot of time and research. "We want to fix this."
On Thursday, Airbnb launched Trips, a comprehensive way to book more services through its app. In 12 cities around the world, customers can now reserve "Experiences," multi-day or single-day excursions and outings created by hosts. In L.A., for instance, you can spend three days with a professional astro-photographer who will show you the art of shooting stars in the night sky. You can spend an afternoon with a woman who teaches Korean embroidery or take a ride with a muscle car lover who teaches California history of the '50s and '60s through vintage car rides. Each Experience has an accompanying trailer giving you a glimpse of what you're paying for.
Airbnb has been privately testing--and teasing--these experiences for several months. By next year, the app will have reservable experiences, half of which go for less than $200, in more than 50 cities.
Another new feature is Places, a guidebook section within the app that curates recommendations for activities, restaurants, and other things to do in cities according to notable locals. Want to go surfing in Malibu? Look no further than pro surfer Kelly Slater's insider guide to the sport. Chesky said Places is designed to solve the problem plaguing traditional guidebooks, the idea that locals almost never do what the guidebooks recommend. Airbnb has partnered with San Francisco-based startup Detour to offer audio tours and Resy to integrate restaurant reservations directly into the app.
Airbnb bills all of these new services as a way for travelers to go beyond the mere transaction of booking accommodations and actually "live" in a local community and interact with locals. But it's also a clear move to corner even more of the travel business.
Chesky teased but didn't fully explain several other areas for business growth. Soon guests will be able to book even more services when they select a property, including car rentals and grocery deliveries. The app will also pull all of your reservations into a timeline, which Chesky said also gives Airbnb the opportunity to look for gaps in your itinerary and suggest ways to fill it. At one point, the CEO displayed the new app icon, which revealed a soon-to-be released feature for booking flights through Airbnb.
"This is literally just the beginning of the trip platform," Chesky said. "We have many more spaces on this icon."
Given that Airbnb already has a massive captive audience of customers, expanding into more corners of the travel business is a logical way to tap new revenue streams. This is particularly important, as the company has run into regulatory issues in a number of cities that could restrict the proliferation of Airbnb properties. San Francisco recently ruled that hosts cannot rent their home for more than 60 days a year. In New York, Airbnb has filed a suit to fight against a law that will slap illegal Airbnb rentals with high fees.
Airbnb is expected to go public eventually, but it's not likely to happen before settling its regulatory tussles in key cities first. In the meantime, the company disclosed in a September 22 SEC filing that it had raised $555 million in new funds. Fortune reported at the time that cash infusion valued the company at $30 billion, and that the round, led by Google Capital, could eventually close at $850 million. To date, the company has raised $4 billion.