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Airbnb is taking further aim at big chain hotels and online travel agencies, announcing a program Thursday that would expand it beyond shared accommodations into something like a full-fledged travel company.
At an event in San Francisco on Thursday, co-founder and CEO Brian Chesky said that the start-up is making it easier for more hotels to list by expanding the type and quality of its listings. The company is also introducing four new rental categories, hiring people to vet higher-end listings and launching a loyalty program later in the year.
As online travel agencies like Booking.com move onto Airbnb's territory by offering short-term home and apartment rentals, Airbnb is responding by diversifying its offerings, and opening new lines of business like its "Trips" product, which launched in November 2016.
Increasingly, that also means moving beyond shared homes to hotels. In August of last year, Chesky tweeted that Airbnb had listings for 15,000 boutique hotels, about 10 months after introducing them to the platform. Earlier this month, Airbnb announced a partnership with SiteMinder, a hotel distribution platform used by more than 28,000 hotels around the world.
The four new categories of listings — vacation home, unique space, B&B and boutique — will give hosts "an unprecedented level of detail in the travel industry" to showcase their properties, Airbnb said in a release.
By expanding its listings and breaking out categories, Airbnb is taking a page from major hotel companies and online travel agencies that offer different brands and price points. In turn, that could expand the start-up's customer base as it heads toward an IPO in the next few years.
The latest push is unlikely to put what Chesky has called "mass-produced" hotel chains on the Airbnb platform.
"We have to be more inclusive of who belong on Airbnb — but there's also a flip side: Not everyone belongs on Airbnb," Chesky said in December, during a global Q&A session.
"We want to have tighter host standards. Groups that provide mass-produced hospitality, who don't offer belonging, who don't' care about what we care about — they don't meet our standards, and they find somewhere else to do their business."
Airbnb and the big chain hotel industry have not always had a smooth relationship, and this new initiative will further complicate that.
Indeed, a spokesman for a hotel industry trade group lashed out at Airbnb Thursday afternoon.
"Whether it's called Plus or Boutique program, Airbnb's latest scheme is just further proof the company is trying to play in the hoteling space while evading industry regulations. If Airbnb wants to enter the hoteling business, then it needs to be regulated, taxed and subject to the same safety compliances and oversight that law-abiding hotel companies adhere to each and every day," said Troy Flanagan, a VP at the American Hotel & Lodging Association, a group that includes the Marriott, Hilton and Hyatt chains as members.
"The question that cities and neighborhoods should be asking – will these 'Plus' or 'Boutique' listings include commercial operators exploiting Airbnb's platform to run illegal hoteling schemes that have fractured our communities, raised serious safety concerns and increased the price of rent while depleting affordable housing options?"