According to the company, "Airbnb Plus is a new selection of only the highest quality homes with hosts known for great reviews and attention to detail. Every Airbnb Plus home is one-of-a-kind, thoughtfully designed, and equipped with a standard set of amenities — whether you’re in a private room or have the entire place to yourself.” At the launch, Airbnb Plus features 2,000 listings across 13 cities, with more to follow. To join Airbnb Plus, the hosts would need to submit an application, which requires paying $149 fee, and then satisfy the company's 100-point quality checklist.
Another service announced yesterday was Beyond, although it won't be launched till late spring, and the amount of information available so far is limited. As Airbnb puts it, Beyond will bring "extraordinary homes with full service hospitality" to the platform.
Besides that, Airbnb is now formally recognizing boutique hotels for the first time: while some hotels have been represented on its platform for years now, Airbnb never paid much attention to those. That is about to change, with the inventory now being separated into several categories that will include vacation homes, unique spaces, bed & breakfast ones and boutique hotels.
In my opinion, those changes are extremely significant. They also provide us with the glimpse into the direction Airbnb want to head in the future. While it was the idea of a marketplace for people to rent their apartments to other travelers that made Airbnb into the company it is today, at some point it had to find a way to transcend the limitations of this niche, while also utilizing its strengths to expand into additional areas.
One of the key challenges for Airbnb to solve at the beginning was to convince people to put their trust into the platform, allowing the strangers to stay in their homes. Once Airbnb managed to overcome this initial mistrust, the ratings system allowed it to quickly scale the platform, with both the untrustworthy guests and hosts being filtered out by the market.
With Airbnb Plus, it's now taking this further, using its already established ratings system for the hosts (as well as the statuses of "superhosts", possessed by some of them) to identify the most promising rentals, and then work with their owners to ensure even higher level of comfort for the guests. This seems very smart, as it fully utilizes the existing advantages that come with Airbnb scale and its crowdsourced ratings, thus allowing the company to scale it fast, while also providing the guests with enhanced convenience.
The same goes for the idea of recognizing boutique hotels. In many ways, Airbnb is better positioned to serve this niche that the regular hotel booking systems, not to mention the fact that Airbnb only charges the hosts 3%, charging the guests with the rest, and doing that in a transparent way, while platforms like Booking.com charge the hotels 15 to 20% of the booking value. However, before now, finding the boutique hotels on the platform was slow and inconvenient, damaging the experience for the users. The introduction of separate categories for different types of inventory should allow to improve the user experience, and potentially help to attract additional hotels to the platform.
It's harder to make any definitive conclusions about Airbnb Beyond at this point. On the one hand, judging from the way Airbnb positioned it in the announcement, it represents a long awaited move for the company directly onto the hotels' turf, which significantly expands its total addressable market, and should also potentially allow it to better serve the entire spectrum of their clients' needs.
On the other hand, unlike with the Plus and boutique hotels, the expansion into the full service hospitality doesn't necessarily utilize the existing strengths of the platform, and it's also not a space the company has much experience in. In order to leverage its scale, Airbnb would most likely need to find local partners in each geography, and then figure out a way to ensure that it can provide a consistent and high quality experience the guests are accustomed to with the traditional luxury hotels. This can be a very difficult challenge to tackle, but at the same time, the sheer size of the hospitality industry makes the attempt worth the effort.