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Airbnb is rolling out a new tier aimed at higher-end travelers

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Airbnb today is rolling out a few new additions to their home-booking system, including new tiers that are aimed at higher-end customers, called Airbnb Plus and Beyond by Airbnb.

The new Airbnb Plus tier has homes that are verified for “quality and comfort,” rolling out with around 2,000 homes to start that have been inspected against a thorough checklist. The luxury tier, called Beyond by Airbnb, is built around whole trips including hospitality, custom experience and — of course — higher-end homes. Each appears to be targeting verticals within the travel space that make sense based on the typical hospitality industry, but weren’t specifically singled out on Airbnb.

Rather than just searching for a home on Airbnb and flipping through the photos or reviews, the new tiers may offer customers willing to spend more an opportunity to tap into the same expectations they’d get from a luxury resort — or, at least, a higher-end one aiming to hit the status of something like the Sofitel in Bangkok, Thailand. Frequent business travelers often have accumulated massive piles of reward points (and maybe have bigger travel budgets) and may be accustomed to this, and there’s also plenty of opportunity to target the same kinds of experiences that something like an Atlantis full-service resort in the Bahamas might offer (with water slides and all).

In addition to those tiers, which are being announced at an event at San Francisco this morning (I overheard there may be more than 1,000 employees at this event, as well as a few dozen “super-hosts”), the company also is adding new ways to search for property on its service. The new brackets are vacation home, unique space, B&B and Boutique. All these basically existed on the platform, but that segmentation wasn’t there yet. Hosts are going to have an opportunity to have a more granular way of classifying their homes. As Airbnb pushes itself to be a community-driven product, it’s not surprising that a huge event would show up at a huge venue including those same super-hosts.

In fact, you’ll often find these kinds of home setups already in place when you’re searching for places to stay abroad. You might find several rental units in the same building, or of the same configuration, all by the same host. That’s almost like a kind of faux hotel system, but this will offer an opportunity for Airbnb hosts to differentiate themselves for users that are looking for something more specific. Or you might find a small house on the beach where the hosts offer plenty of amenities and maybe even food. Either way, these granular options aim to not only help users dig more deeply into specific experiences, but also help hosts raise their hands to identify that their homes are catered around those experiences.

As Airbnb has tried to begin turning itself into a kind of experience machine with the launch of Experiences, it’s trying to position itself as an alternative and more robust option in the hospitality industry. Rather than just booking a hotel at a luxury resort you find on TripAdvisor, Airbnb is trying to build the credibility that it can offer unique experiences you won’t find in those hotel environments — whether that’s a tiny apartment in the middle of Shinjuku, Japan or a beautiful condo in the middle of Ponta Delgada in the Azores. All this comes back to the hosts, which now have an opportunity to try to craft those experiences and, in the end, pick up an additional revenue stream on the property they might already own.

While Airbnb was already a kind of intent-driven service — users probably have a general idea of what they’re looking for when they come — this could really go two ways. It could make Airbnb more of a hub for discovery for people looking to travel abroad with customized experiences and a more robust array of options for homes. Or it could force those to be even more granular and silo users even further. Either way, the company’s Experiences product seems to be doing fine (and they are not bad from my experience trying it, as well), so it seems like the end result is going to be up in the air until we see how this plays out for a few months.

Still, Airbnb is going to continue to face challenges, ranging from some criticism for its expansion in cities like New York to the recent departure of its CFO Laurence Tosi. Airbnb is pegged as one of the next major consumer IPOs, which is highly anticipated, given the nigh-flop of Snap and the most-definite flop of Blue Apron as everyone holds their breath for Uber’s IPO in 2019. Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky has said there are no plans for an IPO in 2018, but it doesn’t change that it has to set itself up as a company that has the capacity to be a robust competitor in the hospitality space.

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