Sat, Nov 19, 2016 - Page 11 News List

Airbnb transforms into travel firm

Reuters, LOS ANGELES

Airbnb Inc on Thursday launched a new program called Trips to transform itself into a travel company, marking the most significant expansion since the company was founded eight years ago as a home and room-renting service.

Chief executive Brian Chesky opened a three-day event in Los Angeles with the announcement that Airbnb would offer travelers the opportunity to create customized itineraries for hours or days that afford a more authentic local experience.

“If you want to travel, you basically end up on a research project,” Chesky said. “We want to fix this.”

The diversification away from its core service, in which people rent out spare rooms or entire apartments and houses to travelers, could be important to the company’s continued growth as it faces a regulatory crackdown across the globe.

“The Airbnb you knew as of yesterday will be a minority of our revenue in the future,” Chesky said in an interview.

Through Trips, customers can book a range of local activities — from a cooking class in Florence to a violin-making workshop in Paris — and find attractions that are not on the tourist circuit.

The services are available now as an upgrade to the Airbnb app in 12 cities and will be in more than 50 cities next year, Chesky said. Flight and rental car bookings will also be part of the service eventually.

The new service comes as cities from New York to Amsterdam and Berlin work to limit short-term rentals, and new regulations threaten to erode Airbnb’s revenue and its US$30 billion valuation.

Airbnb, with about 100 million users in 34,000 cities, drew throngs of hosts from around the world to the event in Los Angeles.

Several lamented higher taxes and tougher rental restrictions in their cities — but also Airbnb’s failure at times to help them navigate evolving local laws.

Airbnb has, by its own admission, been slow to address cities’ housing concerns. Last month, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a law that would bar even advertising a rental that violates that existing law, which could help regulators crack down on Airbnb itself in addition to the users of its service.

This week, San Francisco lawmakers voted to further restrict home renting by approving an ordinance that bars hosts from having paying guests in a room, house or apartment for more than 60 days a year. The ordinance still requires the mayor’s approval.

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