Mike Isaac

Recent Posts by Mike Isaac

With Neighborhoods and Local Lounges, Airbnb Becomes a Fodor’s for Travel Booking

Airbnb’s growth has been explosive over the past few years. It’s an alternative to going the usual hotel route, allowing travelers to stay in local homes and apartments rather than the Marriott.

Problem is, if you’re looking to visit, say, San Francisco for the first time, you don’t know what districts would be the best place for you to stay. So if you’re a bigger fan of Italian food than Mexican, for instance, you wouldn’t necessarily know that North Beach is probably a better fit for you than the Mission.

Neighborhoods, the company’s latest product, aims to fix this. Airbnb has recruited teams of “local experts” to give detailed information on specific locales. They’ll specify, for instance, how easy it is to travel on foot or by public transportation, or whether it’s better to rent a car. Each neighborhood comes with recommendations on local shops and restaurants, and with maps that tell exactly where the place you’re considering staying is situated.

Like every major site these days, the largest emphasis is on photos. Airbnb has employed a team of people to shoot the community haunts. Each neighborhood page is plastered with high-quality shots of nearby food establishments, pretty parks and other local ephemera.

Neighborhoods will begin with more than 300 neighborhoods across a handful of major cities like London, Rio de Janeiro and, of course, San Francisco.

If all of this sounds familiar, it’s because it is. Travel guides like Fodor’s and restaurant review pioneer Zagat have offered local suggestions for years in the travel book space, while the rise of sites like Yelp have made it easier to discover local businesses based on the wisdom of crowds. And in recent years, Web giants like Google have pushed hard into this space with products such as Google+Local, which pairs location-based local discovery with Zagat guide ratings for restaurants.

But the additions signal larger ambitions for Airbnb, as the company shapes itself into a more integrated accommodation service. Like most travel services already know, we plan our trips around the stuff we want to do. Staying in a place that’s best suited to our interests makes the most sense, and the philosophy is that local advocates know best, and should be the ones doing the write-ups.

The big initiative now is convincing small, independently owned businesses that working with Airbnb is a good thing. Within each pilot neighborhood, Airbnb also plans to host “Local Lounges,” essentially hubs for travelers to look up much of what’s good to visit nearby.

Right now, they’re situated within a few coffee-shop launch partners, but my guess is that Airbnb wants to convince other types of businesses to follow suit. (See the Airbnb-backed study on how good the start-up is for San Francisco for more evidence of this.)

Now all that’s keeping Airbnb from becoming a full-fledged Orbitz or Travelocity competitor are integrated flight- and car-booking services (though Airbnb already has a deal with Hipmunk for any traffic that Hipmunk sends Airbnb’s way). That may make sense as the company scales, but we’ll have to see how neighborhoods and local lounges play out.

The new service is available in select cities beginning today, with plans to go wider in the coming months.


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