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Airbnb will expand 'experiences' to 1,000 cities this year

The lodgings company added day trips and excursions a year ago. Now it says it's putting its "foot on the gas."

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Airbnb is looking to be more than a just a home rental website, says CEO Brian Chesky.

James Martin/CNET

Airbnb tried something new a little over a year ago. It launched what it calls "experiences." These are local excursions that travelers can sign up for, such as truffle hunting in Tuscany and surf lessons in Malibu.

The lodgings company said Friday that its experiment is working. Since it launched experiences in November 2016, bookings have grown 2,500 percent year over year. Airbnb has also expanded these experiences from 12 to 60 cities worldwide. Now, the company says it's planning to add even more cities this year, including in places like Tasmania, Iceland and Easter Island.

"We're going to put our foot on the gas," Joe Zadeh, Airbnb's vice president of trips, said at an event in San Francisco's community space The Assembly on Friday. "This year we're going to expand to 1,000 cities."

Airbnb has gone from a website for couch surfers to having a massive online presence in the last decade. It lists roughly 4.5 million homes for rent in more than 81,000 cities. But facing regulations from cities around the world, along with competition from hotels and other companies in the travel industry, Airbnb has needed to rethink its business.

Over the past couple of years, it's expanded from offering homes for short-term rentals to letting travelers book experiences and restaurant reservations. It's also partnered with major landlords in California and Florida that allow for Airbnb rentals through their buildings. The company said Thursday that it's tapping into high-end clientele with the launch of Airbnb Plus and Beyond by Airbnb.

"Our company does much more than homes," said Airbnb co-founder and CEO Brian Chesky on Friday. "We have trips that are magical and easy."

Along with expanding its experiences to more cities, Airbnb is also creating four new categories for the platform.

These include: 

  • "Social impact" experiences with nonprofit organizations, such as learning about ocean conservancy while surfing 
  • "Social dining," where travelers who don't know each other can share a meal 
  • Off-the-beaten-path "adventures," which include multi-day excursions such as camping in the Sahara
  • "Airbnb concerts," where travelers can listen to local music in small settings

"The options are endless," said Zadeh. "We are working with our hosts where anyone can build an experience around their passion."

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