How to burst the bubble of Airbnb Trips in two phone calls

Last week Airbnb released what is essentially its first new product since the company’s inception in 2008.

The absolute leader in peer-to-peer rentals and a flagship innovator in the share economy, Airbnb has grown into a Goliath thanks to a great idea with great execution and great design.

This initial innovation blew the travel world apart and continues to eat into the traditional accommodation industry.

NB: This is an analysis by Tony Carne, general manager of Urban Adventures.

I’m personally a massive fan of what they have done.

I had a beach house back in 2009 and signed it up the moment I came across them. From memory I was one of the very first in Nicaragua on the platform.

Since then, I have stayed in Airbnb’s at least once on every trip – and I travel a lot.

I’ve been on the ride since the beginning and even now when on company retreats, we generally choose an Airbnb.

But these new announcements of Trips and Places, however, have left me a little flat.

I get that the point is having everything in one App. A total solution. As a tech company they are making discovery and delivery very simple.

From a design point of view – they are master craftspeople. Beautiful and flawless.

The products themselves on the other hand, are actually nothing new – really at all. At this point, maybe that doesn’t matter?

It does, however, present an opportunity for competitors to catch them and even overtake them, and quickly.

Going through each of the big announcements from Airbnb Open, here’s what I mean.

Let’s use HomeAway or Marriott Group or as competitor examples to see how they might be able to do this:

1. Unique Local Experiences in 12 cities, with up to 50 in 2017

Currently Airbnb has a handful of experiences, again beautifully hand-crafted by their team that are generally are all Private Experiences – so only one person or group per day can book on them.

That means lots of others cannot. And the destination reach is also pretty slim.

Urban Adventures, for example, has unique authentic local experiences, hand crafted by local people, that show of the best of this back street breed of experience in 157 destinations, across 6 continents.

We’ve been at it for seven years. On top, these Urban Adventures experiences are run by travel professionals (boring I know, however all that licensing, insurance and adherence to local regulations hasn’t inhibited creativity) who live and die by the quality of their execution of these unique experiences.

They run almost every day – with lots of room for everyone – or, as some travellers prefer, they can also be done privately.

2. Social Impact Trips

Urban Adventures pioneered this style of travel a few years back with its In Focus range of tours.

These tours highlight the great work being done by Social Entrepreneurs, NGO’s and Non Profits around the world. Indeed Urban Adventures was honoured with the 2015 World Responsible Tourism Award for Engaging People and Culture, in part because of these efforts.

3. Free City Meet-Ups

Yes, you guessed it… Urban Adventures released their Locals on Tap range of City Meet Up experiences a couple of months prior to the Airbnb Open and has them currently available for free for people travelling in 2017.

They are available in 65 cities around the world on a daily basis in 2017. Airbnb currently has 2 cities with meet ups

4. A locals recommendations guide book

Urban Adventures has over 1,000 local people on the ground across the 157 destinations who know all the good spots. Some cities even have a guidebook app like this one with their favourite spots in it.

5. Access to Andrew Mason’s wonderful Detour catalog

I’m sure he is open to more distribution.


Should someone in the race with Airbnb want to play head to head with them on these innovations, you can see it wouldn’t take much to make it happen.

Actually they could be a couple of years in front by making two phone calls.

And they could do it with zero risk to their own business, practically no work, an API integration, so also practically no ongoing administration, they could work with a business that has a NPS of 71 and still take a good margin on the sales they generated from their audience.

If they wanted something bespoke – that too could happen with a little more risk and time. And if replication is really that simple, then can it really be called innovation?

From that point it becomes a branding and design battle. Beautiful artwork, slick UX, incredible caching and amazing file compression in the new App look to be the innovative aspects in this launch that I haven’t heard anyone talking about.

Can they be matched there? Probably, those are somewhat simpler issues to solve although Airbnb are the masters.

Media spend is the other area to solve, which is just a matter of will and prioritisation of funds.

These issues are much simpler than trying to wrangle thousands of amateur experience makers who don’t really work for you, and who may not always represent the brand and the high standards expected from its leaders.

The chasing pack also wouldn’t need to have a big team working on it and managing it, probably just an account manager and little bit of tech time – meaning it could be done a lot more cheaply than the competitor in terms of head count.

People bandy around the word innovation a little too easily for my liking.

Things are not always what they seem and it’s surprising how the razzle dazzle of a launch can stop people taking a harder look at a situation and really understanding what it is, and isn’t.

These particular innovations may have actually made it easier for some Airbnb competitors to go head to head in an apple for apples race, when I’m sure the intention was the opposite here.

NB: This is an analysis by Tony Carne, general manager of Urban Adventures.

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