I’m in New York’s Meatpacking District where I’m meeting Brian Chesky, one of the founders of Airbnb, the globally popular website for sharing accommodation and a keystone of the ‘sharing economy’.
I’ve been reading up on the company’s astronomic growth since its launch in 2007 and what started as a seemingly crazy idea grew to be a multi-billion dollar success story. It all started when Brian and his co-founder Joe Gebbia decided to turn the living room of their loft apartment into a B&B for the weekend in order to cover the rent. Guests were accommodated on airbeds and received a homemade breakfast, and Brian and Joe were able to pay the bills.
Few believed this concept had any further potential, but by slowly growing the business and spreading the idea among communities, Brian and Joe laid the foundations for a global movement. With 10 million guest stays since 2007 – in everything from studio apartments to castles – and 550,000 listed properties in 192 countries around the world, the company is today worth $2.5 billion.
Now Airbnb is taking the concept one step further with the launch of Airbnb Neighborhoods, a new way for travellers to find the hidden gems in the world’s cities and really get to know destinations at a hyper-local level. “How did you come up with the idea of Airbnb Neighborhoods?”
“Neighborhoods are the original communities,” says Brian. “They are the key to unlocking local culture and one-of-a-kind experiences. By going deeper and tapping into local knowledge, we are introducing our community to a neighborhood’s personality so they can match it with their own.”
“And how does it work in combination with the Airbnb site?”
“Basically Airbnb Neighborhoods allows users to filter accommodations by neighbourhood attributes so they can more easily match the place they are going to stay with their preferences and personality.
“And what kind of content do you provide?”
We have maps, photos, practical details about parking and public transport, but also articles written by locals. It will really allow people to feel what it means to become part of a city. That’s the online part, but what’s even more exciting is that there is also an offline component to connect travelers with local businesses.”
“Oh cool! So how does that work?”
“The idea is that travellers can drop into a number of coffee shops that we have selected around town – Local Lounges – to get a drink, use free WiFi, relax and browse through local guidebooks. For travellers, this is a place to get connected and find additional information for their trip; for local businesses it’s a way to increase income and visibility.”
“That sounds great,” I say. “So where’s the nearest Local Lounge? Let’s go check it out!”
Brian laughs. “Right now we’re still piloting the project in San Francisco, but let me get you a coffee at this espresso bar and I can be your local guide! Ask me anything you want about the Meatpacking District and I’ll give you some great off-the-beaten-track tips!”
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