We think Airbnb is laying the groundwork for a big push into helping local businesses market themselves.
Airbnb is creating guidebooks to neighborhoods for people who book lodging with its service, and designating some local coffee shops as official "Airbnb Local Lounges," where guests can cool their heels and get their bearings while waiting, say, for a host to show up with keys to the apartment they're renting.
That positions Airbnb to direct valuable tourist traffic to favored businesses—a new potential revenue stream which may be part of the reason why Airbnb is seeking fresh financing at a reported $2.5 billion valuation, far above the price set on its last infusion from investors.
It's easy to see how providing local information translates to carrying local advertising or offering local deals, as Yelp, Groupon, and Google do today. The difference is that Airbnb can do it to a much more targeted and valuable demographic: travelers.
We asked Airbnb cofounder Joe Gebbia if that was the eventual plan.
"We certainly hope so," he said. Airbnb had experimented with letting hosts create their own neighborhood guidebooks for guests. But they had only listed a total of 150,000 local businesses—a drop in the bucket for a service that books as many as 60,000 visitor nights a day.
But Gebbia took pains to point out that right now, the emphasis is on presenting a "curated," or hand-selected, mix of businesses to ensure that guests have a good experience.
After all, booking lodging is Airbnb's only business today.
Tomorrow's another day, though.
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