Airbnb Makes Big Play for Luxury Travel; Launches Loyalty Program

There’s a big new player in the luxury space travel agents should keep on their radar: Airbnb. Long associated with young, Millennial travelers looking to "live like a local" in city apartments, the company is making a big push into luxury travel as part of its just-released 10-year “roadmap,” which outlines the next decade of the company’s expansion. Airbnb Co-Founder, CEO and Head of Community Brian Chesky talked about the new plan at a keynote address in San Francisco.

The roadmap includes the addition of two new tiers of Airbnb properties: Airbnb Plus and Beyond by Airbnb, which represents a big investment in luxury travel. Beyond by Airbnb builds on the company’s acquisition of Luxury Retreats, a Montreal-based luxury vacation rental company with over 4,000 homes in over 100 destinations worldwide, last year. Launching this spring, the new Beyond by Airbnb collection will offer “the world’s finest homes, custom experiences and world-class hospitality.”

Airbnb Plus, the other new tier, includes homes that have been verified in person for quality and comfort based on a checklist with over 100 points, including cleanliness, comfort and design. There are currently 2,000 Airbnb Plus homes in 13 cities available to book, with plans for further expansion.

The company is also adding four new property types to its platform: Vacation Home, Unique Space, B&B and Boutique, which Airbnb says will give greater transparency to guests regarding the type of accommodations available. Airbnb hosts are now able to categorize their listings using the new categories, with the property types launching to guests this summer.

Airbnb is also adding a number of Airbnb Collections aimed at appealing to different niche markets beyond the young, solo travelers stereotypically associated with the company. They are Airbnb for Family and Airbnb for Work, both of which are now available. Collections for social stays, weddings, honeymoons, group getaways and dinner parties are expected later this year.

Finally, the company is taking aim at hotel loyalty programs with a new “Superguest” guest membership program, which Airbnb says will offer benefits across the entire trip. Superguest will initially launch to 10,000 guests this summer before rolling out more broadly before the end of the year.

The move is the latest in Airbnb’s ongoing expansion from a sharing economy platform focused on the vacation rental market into multiple facets of the travel industry, such as through its Trips platform, which focuses on “Live Like a Local”-style experiences in the destinations in which the company operates. (A rumor reported by Bloomberg regarding an expansion into flight bookings that was making the rounds in December of 2016 has yet to materialize).

The company has also been reaching out to business travelers and travel agents with a new partnership with Concur that allows agents to book Airbnb listings embedded within concur travel. The partnership also allows Airbnb itineraries and e-receipts to be automatically fed back into Concur, simplifying expense reports.

Destinations worldwide have also been working to come to terms with the new company, setting up regulatory frameworks to ensure safety and transparency. The Caribbean Tourism Organization, the tourism development agency for the Caribbean, inked such a deal earlier this month. An agreement in Quintana Roo, Mexico, which includes Cancun, Playa del Carmen, and the Riviera Maya, was also reached last summer.

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