This article appeared first in Fast Company, written by Ruth Reader.
In 2017, Brian Chesky, CEO of home-sharing company Airbnb, pondered what the perfect flight experience would look like. Now he may finally get it. Airbnb has hired Fred Reid, an executive with deep airline and aviation experience, to head up the company’s global transportation efforts. Reid, former CEO of Virgin America, most recently led a unit at commercial aviation startup Kitty Hawk devoted to building an autonomous and electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft; Cora.
Rumors of Airbnb’s flight ambitions first made headlines at the end of 2016. The company was reportedly considering a dabble in flight booking. There were also discussions to acquire a flight booking app and sketched drawings of Airbnb’s logo on planes, according to the Information. Around the same time, Chesky queried the masses on what the ideal flight might look like. In addition to flights, Airbnb has kicked around the idea of connecting travelers with ground transport–anything from a car to pick you up at the airport to rentals or car shares.
Ultimately, Chesky wants Airbnb to be what he calls an “end-to-end travel platform,” essentially a place where people can book all legs of a trip (a way to get there, a place to stay, stuff to do, and a way to get around). Airbnb insists it is not creating its own airline or transportation services. Instead, Reid will be in charge of forming relationships with travel companies that might eventually provide services–like flights–on Airbnb’s network.
What will that look like? Perhaps something like Experiences, Airbnb’s activity booking section. Unlike Homes, where just about anyone can post a rental, Experiences offers a more curated selection of services. “Part of the lesson I learned from Homes was: Curate the marketplace, manage it more, people have to qualify, we have to prove everybody,” Chesky told Fast Company last year. What that has meant for the company is sifting through thousands of applications, approving a small percentage, and in certain cases helping to develop experiences with third parties. That same wisdom is likely to marshal Airbnb’s approach to bringing transportation services onto its platform.
Expect an emphasis on quality and uniqueness.
In the last two years, Experiences has seen big growth. Since last year, Experiences has gone from 60 cities to 1,000 cities. There are now nearly 24,000 Experiences on Airbnb, the company says. The platform as a whole is also getting bigger. There are 5 million places to stay on Airbnb, and the company expects to hit 500 million guest arrivals through its platform by the end of the first quarter 2019. At the beginning of 2017, the company had completed 146 million guest arrivals.
Why it’s important: While AirBnB hasn’t committed to any plans or announced official work to enter the urban air mobility industry, the company’s ever increasing push to offer more than just lodging to its customers has brought the advent of “experiences”. What the company decides to do next is still up in the air – but that’s exactly where it might stay.