New luxe offering Beyond hints at Airbnb’s goal to become full travel site

JP Mangalindan
Chief Tech Correspondent
When it launches this spring, Beyond by Airbnb will offer a bundled traveling experience for vacationers, pairing ultra-high-end listings with local activities. Source: Airbnb

Airbnb announced on Thursday a new feature called Beyond by Airbnb that strongly hints at how the popular home-rental service plans to evolve into a site where people can go for all their travel needs, not just a place to stay.

The new ultra-high-end service, which follows the acquisition of the Montreal-based startup Luxury Retreats in 2017 for a reported $200 million, was unveiled at a company event in San Francisco. Airbnb Beyond, launching this spring, offers a holistic experience for vacationers by pairing stays at the highest end-homes on the site with local things to do, like cooking classes with local chefs, truffle hunting, outdoors activities and more.

“It’s the trip of a lifetime, custom-designed,” Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky explained onstage on Thursday.

Airbnb Head of Design Alex Schleifer, meanwhile, explained to Yahoo Finance that Airbnb’s design team treated the launch of Beyond as “cinematic.” Which is why early teasers for the new service, like this YouTube trailer, feature a sweeping, glossy high-budget approach.

Airbnb did not disclose pricing for the average Beyond experience, but don’t expect the “trip of a lifetime” to be cheap — at least, based on the luxe-looking images of ultra-high-end villas displayed onstage at the event and shown in the marketing material.

More importantly, however, Beyond represents a tipping point for the home-rental site, which 300 million people have used to find accommodations since Airbnb launched in 2008. Although Airbnb is undeniably popular and broad in its appeal, it nonetheless still has a reputation with some as being a cheaper hotel alternative rather than the go-to resource for travel accommodations.

Another Airbnb Beyond listing includes this unspecified picturesque, far-flung villa from the glossy, high-budget YouTube trailer Airbnb released on Thursday. Source: Airbnb

Beyond’s more holistic approach — bundling home listings with activities, or what Airbnb previously offered as standalone “Experiences” — represents Airbnb’s most aggressive attempt yet to shake that reputation. (Beyond was one of several new features announced Thursday, including expanded search categories for homes and more strictly vetted, high-end “Airbnb Plus” listings.)  

Beyond portends at what the future of Airbnb will probably be: Instead of standalone home listings and local activities you can book a la carte, the average Airbnb booking will be more of a multifaceted bundled offering.

“I think that’s [possible] especially with Airbnb Plus, which I’m personally excited about and plan to use all the time,” Airbnb Vice President of Engineering Mike Curtis told Yahoo Finance. “With that, I think there’s a great opportunity for being able to pair that booking with activities in that area. We haven’t necessarily put all that stuff together yet, but that is down the line.”

That dovetails nicely with Airbnb’s longer-term goal of one day being a full-service travel platform with heavily personalized trips that include not just where you’re staying, but other details including transportation and entertainment — all of which would be powered by technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning that the company has deployed since 2014.  Airbnb, of course, isn’t quite there yet, but with Beyond it is certainly now one step closer to making that a reality. Beyond and other features announced on Thursday are also crucial in Chesky’s goal of having 1 billion travelers booking on Airbnb annually by 2028.

“Ten years ago we never dreamed of what Airbnb could become,” Chesky recalled of the service, which has raised more than $4.4 billion in venture-backed capital since 2009. “In fact, people thought the idea that strangers would stay in each other’s homes was crazy. Today, millions of people every night do just that.”

JP Mangalindan is the Chief Tech Correspondent for Yahoo Finance covering the intersection of tech and business. Email story tips and musings to Follow him on Twitter or Facebook.

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