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Airbnb is getting all fancy

A remodel means the lodgings company will start catering to wealthier clients. It's also adding new rental types, like vacation homes and boutique hotels.

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CEO Brian Chesky announced several new Airbnb features at an event at San Francisco's Masonic theater.

James Martin/CNET

Airbnb wants to have more than 1 billion people staying in its rentals by 2028. That's one-seventh of the world's population -- or the populations of the US and Europe combined.

To get there, the lodgings company is doing a major overhaul, which it unveiled at an event in San Francisco's Masonic theater on Thursday. Along with making its website more user friendly, it's adding four new types of rentals, high-end tiers for wealthier travelers, and more rental categories to choose from.

"Over the last 10 years a lot has changed," Airbnb co-founder and CEO Brian Chesky told the crowd at the Masonic. "Airbnb is still an alternative, but it's still not for everyone ... Today we will show you our road map: Airbnb for everyone."     

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Airbnb has gone from a website for couch surfers to having a massive online presence in just under a decade. It lists roughly 4.5 million homes for rent in more than 81,000 cities. But that growth has come with increasing scrutiny from city regulators. The company has battled local governments from San Francisco to New York to London.

Though it's worked out deals with many of those regulators, it's had to scale down its offerings and adjust to rules that require hosts to register with cities and that curb how many nights a year people can rent out a home. 

That means Airbnb has needed to rethink its business to stay competitive with hotels and similar sites like VRBO vacation rentals. Over the past couple of years, it's expanded from offering homes for short-term rentals to letting travelers book day trips and restaurant reservations. It's also partnered with major landlords in California and Florida that allow for Airbnb rentals through their buildings.

The company's newest revamp includes several features. It's specifying four new property types: vacation home, unique space, B&B and boutique hotel. Unique spaces include things like tree houses, yurts and Airstream trailers, while boutique hotels would be nonchain hotels. Airbnb said it's differentiating these listings so people will be able to more easily choose the best match for their preferences.

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Airbnb Plus is one of the company's new high-end types of rentals.

James Martin/CNET

The company is also adding two new high-end tiers: Airbnb Plus and "Beyond by Airbnb." Chesky said Plus is for guests "looking for beautiful homes" that have "exceptional hosts." All of these listings are verified by the company. 

"Beyond by Airbnb" goes one level higher, with full-on luxury stays that include "some of the world's nicest homes," Chesky said. These include everything from villas in Tuscany to ski-in, ski-out lodges in Aspen.

Jennifer King, who was in the audience at Thursday's event, said she listed her high-end home in San Francisco on Airbnb Plus. She said that when Airbnb verified her house, "they came and literally opened every drawer." They made sure she had the right pots and pans and carbon monoxide detectors. 

"It was to the nth degree," she said. "For the crème de la crème."

Finally, Airbnb announced at its event that it's redesigning its website to include more personalized collections for travelers to choose from. Currently people need to scroll through listings to find what's right for them, but with more collections they'll be able to choose from categories like weddings, travel for work, group getaways and dinner parties.

"We think we finally do have a home for everyone," Chesky said. "I'm really excited to see what the next 10 years look like."

First published Feb. 22,  9:31 a.m. PT. 
Update, 2:31 p.m. PT: Adds more details about the event and background information.

Update, Feb. 26, 11:58 a.m. PT: Clarifies Airbnb Plus has launched in San Francisco.

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