Following its global debut last November, Airbnb’s tours and activities platform Trips has now made its way into South-east Asia, officially launching in Singapore earlier this week followed by Bangkok yesterday.
Mass tourism has resulted in a “disconnect between (travellers) and the community”, so Trips can bridge this chasm by offering “experiences that cannot be found in guidebooks”, said Airbnb’s chief product officer Joe Gebbia, one of its three co-founders who visited Singapore and Bangkok this week to launch Airbnb Trips in both cities.
Joe Gebbia launching Airbnb’s latest evolution – Trips – in Bangkok yesterday
The home-sharing giant now boasts three core offerings – Homes, Experiences and Places – although Trips is envisioned as “complementing home experiences”, pointed out Gebbia. Places are recommendations from Airbnb hosts, neighbourhood insiders and local influencers in a destination, providing travellers with access to a city’s hidden gems and events.
With its foray into tours and activities space, Airbnb’s ambitions to become a vertical player in the travel industry is becoming more apparent than ever.
“We foresee a vertical integrated system, building things on top of each other,” added Gebbia.
Experiences in Singapore include making soon kueh (turnip dumplings) with a hawker and making pottery at a family-run pottery with wood-fired dragon kilns. In Bangkok, a muay thai immersion with official master of ceremonies Matthew Deane, Thai fruit carving and making cocktails using traditional Thai ingredients are among the Experiences being offered.
Airbnb now offers 800 Experiences across 13 cities worldwide – including Singapore, Bangkok, Tokyo, Seoul and Sydney in Asia-Pacific – and is expected to be rolled out to 50 markets within this year.
In particular, Asia is seen as a high-potential market for Airbnb Trips. “Asia has the greatest potential over Europe and North America because these (latter) markets want to experience Asia,” said Gebbia.
“Thailand is already growing by leaps and bounds for Airbnb, so we expect cool experiences to be a future draw, offering reasons for visitors to come to Thailand and for people in Thailand to earn additional income,” he added.
But like Homes, Airbnb’s envisioned growth on its Trips platform could face regulatory challenges in South-east Asia. Singapore recently made it illegal for short-term rentals of lesser than six months, while Airbnb is still considered illegal by the Thai authorities. As well, in both countries, tour guiding is a profession that requires a license.
Gebbia with Matthew Deane, host of an authentic Muay Thai Experience in Bangkok
“We don’t foresee any headwinds. Regulatory challenges vary from country to country… We are working closely with local governments,” Gebbia maintained, appearing to sidestep the regulatory roadblock issue that has dogged the company in many cities when questioned by TTG Asia.
He added that Airbnb will respect the laws and regulations in each city and also provide registration and licensing of its local experts if needed. “The sharing economy is here to stay. The genie’s out of the bottle.”
Ensuring quality, consistency of standards and insurance and safety are other issues that Airbnb potentially has to grapple with as it scales up, although Gebbia insists that the company’s five-point checklist for Trips and nine-point checklist for Homes will be adequate.
Hosts are also offered training and those who receive negative feedback will be evaluated and asked to leave if they do not meet Airbnb’s standards for being hosts, he elaborated.
When asked about the company’s upcoming developments in the future, Gebbia declined to divulge further although he hinted that Airbnb could next enter the transportation arena. “A lot can happen in 10 years. Airbnb didn’t even exist 10 years ago,” he emphasised.
And is a much-rumoured IPO nearing for Airbnb, since it closed US$1 billion in its latest funding round? Gebbia insists that going public is “not in the cards”. He added: “We are focused on building Experiences and Trips now.”