Airbnb quietly tries a new approach to selling tours and activities

Airbnb is struggling to stay out of the news with various regulatory issues in the US  – but behind the scenes it’s still trying out new things.

As it looks to fend off growing levels noise from the hotel industry and also some in the bed and breakfast sector, executives are telling the high-end business media that it is looking beyond its roots as it looks to add to (or justify, some might argue) its already burgeoning valuation.

Co-founder and chief technical officer Nate Blecharczyk tells the FT that it could “eventually be anything” travel-related that it would consider moving into.

What Blecharczyk doesn’t say is that Airbnb has been trying out one particular sector for a while, seemingly without a huge amount of success given it is now onto its third iteration.

The accommodation-sharing beast has been playing around again with tours and activities after seeing its two previous efforts not really come to anything.

Back in 2011 the company announced a partnership with Vayable to up-sell “experiences” to users of the site, primarily by hitting them before they stay at a property with an email.

It didn’t come to anything significant in terms of an overall strategy, with Vayable CEO Jamie Wong claiming “the partnership was an experiment – at the time, our resources were better spent serving our own community”.

And then, this time last year, Airbnb trialled a new service so hosts could sell things-to-do and tours on the site, as well as share their rooms or properties.

Twelve months on, however, things have moved on yet again.

airbnb tours

Sample here for a mountain bike tour in San Francisco.

It is unclear (it hasn’t been announced officially as yet) the breadth and type of experiences on the site, but if the URL extensions are anything to go by it appears to be very much a under-the-radar experiment with only around 80 products being made available.

How Airbnb is getting the product is also a bit of a mystery (it isn’t Vayable), with no details being confirmed by the company when asked.

In fact, an Airbnb official was tight-lipped about the strategy, saying:

“We are always experimenting with new ways to create meaningful experiences on Airbnb, we currently don’t have any updates to share.”

Like all “experiments” (Airbnb has adopted Google’s rather low-key tone for explaining what it is doing), it may come to nothing at all – but equally if the CTO is doing the rounds with the financial press about how the it is exploring new areas of focus it would be safe to say that activities is a logical next step.

Unfortunately, Airbnb refused to answer any questions regarding what some consider to be vitally important elements around selling tours or acting as the intermediary for a product, such as the type of insurance by the provider and what safeguards (if any) Airbnb goes to ensure providers are insured.

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