New Airbnb features court last minute travelers

The peer-to-peer vacation rental company just made it easier to book rooms instantly.

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Airbnb's desktop homepage Screenshot by Richard Nieva/CNET

Airbnb on Tuesday launched two new features based on impromptu travel: one aimed at letting users book last-minute rooms on the online short-term rental service, and another that lets people plan short weekend trips to places nearby.

The last-minute booking feature, available only in San Francisco and Los Angeles for now, shows users listings for places that are available either that night or the next night. When users are in the "search" or "discover" sections of the mobile app, they can tap a button near the top of the screen that brings them to listings that are immediately available.

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Sift through listings that are available for either that night or the next day Airbnb

If you're a host renting out your home for last minute booking, you can speed up the process by setting up your listings so customers are automatically approved based on certain criteria. For example, you can set it so you'll accept anyone as a guest, or restrict the listing to, say, only guests with positive ratings.

If there are no more last-minute rooms available in a certain area, the app tells you the service is sold out.

The new feature goes after travelers who are either spontaneous, desperate, or both -- Airbnb product director Joe Zadeh mentioned that he booked a last minute room after his flight leaving Denver was delayed. It's a market currently sought by apps like Hotel Tonight, which lets people book hotel rooms for the same day they need them.

Zadeh said the company specifically focused on growing the number of instantly bookable listings over the past several months. The number more than doubled to over 90,000, from 35,000 in January. The new features are available on Apple's iOS and Google's Android operating systems.

The move comes amid some friction between services like Airbnb and local governments on the topic of peer to peer rentals. In April, San Francisco Supervisor David Chiu introduced legislation that would require people renting out their homes on these services to enter information such as their name and address on a registry, and limit the amount of time during a year that someone is allowed to rent out their home. One of the aims of the legislation is to discourage renters from essentially setting up makeshift hotels.

Airbnb, who's hometown is San Francisco, has agreed to comply with a lot of the guidelines in the proposed law, but said in a blog post that the legislation is "not perfect."

Targeting people looking for last minute rooms -- and competing with services like Hotel Tonight -- in a way reinforces the idea that a consumer could treat booking an Airbnb property like booking a hotel, especially in a pinch. Zadeh disagreed with that notion. "It's nothing like staying in a hotel," he said. "It's a very, very different value proposition." He points to unique elements, like getting to know a host, that make the experience stand out.

The other feature, called Weekend Getaways, suggests excursions to places relatively close by. For example, if you're searching for a getaway from San Francisco, it will bring up locales either elsewhere in Northern California -- like Napa Valley or Lake Tahoe -- or destinations that are a short plane ride away like Portland, Ore. The app automatically sets the trip dates to the nearest Friday to Sunday. For now, the feature is also only available in San Francisco and Los Angeles.

 

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