Airbnb out to be Wechat of travel - do everything with one app

By the time Lady Gaga appeared on stage on Saturday night as a surprise closing act for Airbnb Open, a three-day festival in downtown Los Angeles celebrating the brand’s values and community of hosts, one thing was clear: Airbnb has joined the league of the world’s most powerful brands — such as Apple, Coke and Facebook — in that decisions the company makes have worldwide reverberations.

The former scrappy start-up began life offering blown-up air beds out of its founders’ apartment. It is now worth an estimated US$30 billion (S$42.8 billion) and gunning for the entire travel pie.

Last Thursday, its co-founder and chief executive officer, Brian Chesky, announced the company is going beyond homes with its latest innovation, Trips.

“Until now, Airbnb has been about homes,” said Chesky. “Airbnb is launching Trips, bringing together where you stay, what you do, and the people you meet all in one place. We want to make travel magical again by putting people back at the heart of every trip.”

Trips is currently made up of Experiences and Places. The former is a collection of activities designed and offered by local hosts and experts, which travellers can book on their holidays.

Places comprises a mix of audio tours and guidebooks of suggestions curated by taste-makers and neighbourhood insiders.

Trips is now live on the Airbnb website and app; travellers can already book Experiences in 12 cities including London, Paris and Tokyo. Another 38 cities will offer Experiences next year, including Singapore.

Chesky added at his keynote that the company is set to include Flights and Services (think car rentals, restaurant reservations and grocery deliveries) as part of Trips eventually — bringing home the underlying message that travellers never have a reason to use another service or company the moment they book with Airbnb.

Every step of the trip will be catered for.

Yes, the travel equivalent of the all-powerful Chinese WeChat app, best-known for entrenching consumer behaviour and loyalty by allowing multiple functions, from splitting the bill with friends to booking karaoke rooms.

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