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Airbnb gets a little fussier

Part of the appeal of booking accommodations through Airbnb is that no single stay is the same. Each home has its own personality, décor and amenities. But this individualized approach can also be a drawback because travelers can never be quite sure what they’ll find when they arrive at the property they have reserved. 

Will the bathroom have toilet paper and is the kitchen going to be fully stocked? Will there be sheets on the bed, and is the home clean or cluttered and rundown?  

Now, for the first time, Airbnb’s customers can have answers to all these questions and then some when they’re considering where to stay.  

To coincide with its 10th anniversary, the company started Airbnb Plus, a brand of accommodations that are guaranteed to meet 100 different criteria and come with certain amenities.  

Airbnb’s chief executive, Brian Chesky, recently announced the news about Airbnb Plus at a news conference in San Francisco. He also announced new categories on the company’s site and another new brand, Beyond by Airbnb, which will be introduced in late spring and offer luxury rentals.  

Although the company has had 300 million overnight stays since it started in 2008 with a website to book overnight stays on air beds, it’s still not mainstream enough, Chesky said, and that is exactly what he wants to change.  

“We have evolved, but we think we can go much further and offer something for everyone,” he said. “Some travelers want predictability and certain comforts, and Airbnb Plus will give them these.”  

Airbnb Plus is debuting with more than 2,000 homes in 13 cities, including Los Angeles, Milan, Shanghai and Toronto. By the end of this year, Chesky said, those numbers will grow to over 75,000 homes in more than 50 destinations. In comparison, Airbnb’s main platform has more than 4.5 million listings in 81,000 cities.  

One example of an Airbnb Plus listing is a two-bedroom, two-bathroom home in Chicago’s Chinatown neighborhood with balcony views and brick and timber touches; it has a nightly rate of $288.  

Like all Plus homes, the property meets the 100-point quality checklist. The kitchen, for one, is stocked with cooking equipment such as pots and pans and knives and has a clean refrigerator with no stains or damage. The bedrooms that guests stay in have an ironing board, a closet, drawers, window treatments and beds with soft, clean bedding and comfortable mattresses. In the bathroom, the cabinets are free of personal items; the shower, tiles and floors don’t have cracks or mildew; and there are two sets of plush towels. Toiletries include shampoo.  

More comforts means higher prices: the average nightly rate of an Airbnb Plus home is $200, compared with the $100 average rate per night for a standard listing. Chesky said the quality standards were established after a team of employees interviewed several hundred of Airbnb’s top-rated hosts.  

“We asked them what they did to earn those ratings and discovered that they all had well-stocked homes and delivered a consistent experience to their guests,” he said.  

Aspiring hosts must apply to have their homes accepted into Airbnb Plus, and once they do, the company will send a local photographer to determine if they meet the required standards.  

Airbnb’s lack of quality control has at times been problematic for the company, according to Rummy Pandit, the executive director of the Lloyd D. Levenson Institute of Gaming, Hospitality and Tourism at Stockton University in New Jersey.  

“It is such a large and dispersed network that there have been challenges in managing a level of standardization,” Pandit said.  

For this reason, he said, the new Plus brand is a smart business move.  

“There is an untapped segment of travelers who haven’t used Airbnb because they don’t like surprises, but now, they may be open to booking a stay through the site,” he said.  

In addition to Airbnb Plus, the company’s main site now will have four new property types — boutique hotels, bed-and-breakfasts, vacation homes and distinctive properties such as tree houses and yurts. These are in addition to the three it already has — shared spaces, private rooms and entire homes.  

Next up, in late spring, Airbnb will introduce Beyond by Airbnb, a collection of high-end homes for luxury-seeking travelers. This is following its purchase last year of the home rental company Luxury Retreats.  

“We’re still affordable, but we want to offer another tier of homes to travelers who want a more upscale experience,” Chesky said.  

HomeAway, another home rental company, has listings of over 2 million homes in 190 countries and launched a high-end division, Luxury Rentals from HomeAway, in 2013 with 4,000 listings. That number has since grown to more than 11,400 listings in 80 countries.  

Airbnb could see similar success if the company can deliver on its promise to maintain a high standard of quality for its luxury listings, according to Kristaiana Capati, an adviser with the New York City luxury travel company Artisanal Experiences.  

“Wealthy travelers today are very much interested in luxury home rentals, but there is not enough product out there to meet their demand,” she said. “Airbnb, being such a known brand, has the potential to significantly change that.”

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