The Evolution of Airbnb

Founded in San Francisco in 2008, Airbnb is one of the world’s largest accommodation platforms, with 4.5 million places to stay in 81,000 cities. Today, with an estimated value of $31 billion, the online marketplace that allows hosts to list their rental properties, is evolving. Here are the FAQs.

Q: What does “evolving” mean exactly?

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Acknowledging that the Airbnb concept is not everyone’s cup of tea, the company is trying to make the brand more mainstream. Previously, guests could choose from an entire home or apartment, a private room or a shared space, but now an additional four categories have been added—vacation home, unique space, B&B and boutique. The last of these, boutique (hotels), is particularly interesting for business travelers, as it signals Airbnb’s shift from its beginnings as the go-to provider of no-frills accommodation to a resource for a broader demographic.

Q: So, all hotels can now choose to list on Airbnb?

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In a word, no. The focus of the boutique category will be on smaller hotels, rather than larger corporate hotel chains. By its own admission, the brand’s relationship with “the hotel cartel” has thus far been contentious, as evidenced by the reaction of Troy Flanagan, vice president for American Hotel & Lodging Association. “Airbnb’s latest scheme,” he says, “is just further proof the company is trying to play in the hoteling space while evading industry regulations.”

Airbnb’s objective is to win away the business of online travel agents (OTAs) such as Expedia and Booking, by charging hotels 3 to 5 percent for a listing, compared to the 17 percent fee currently charged by OTAs. These savings, in turn, could result in better rates for travelers.

Q: Anything else new?

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The brand is also adding two new tiers—Airbnb Plus and Beyond by Airbnb. Airbnb Plus accommodations are those that have been verified in person for quality and comfort, using a checklist of more than 100 points; Beyond by Airbnb, set to launch in the spring, promises to list some of the world’s finest homes and hospitality.

The brand has also rolled out the first phase of Airbnb Collections, offering a home for specific occasions—work, weddings, honeymoons, group getaways and dinner parties. Collections may prove an attractive option for business travelers in search of a space to entertain guests or clients.