Airbnb is stepping into yet another sub-category of the sharing economy: dinner with strangers.
This is territory defined by smaller startups such as EatWith and Feastly, which have used minimal resources to prove the marketplace. Airbnb can easily one-up these smaller companies, simply given its scale. Given that users now book 10 million room nights in 192 countries, there are plenty of opportunities to sell add-on experiences.
In fact, Airbnb could swiftly become the largest travel company by transaction volume in the world with a successful merchandising program focused on incremental offerings. The company realizes this, and is not only focused on the consumer side of things: it recently announced a pilot program to offer house cleaning services to hosts as well.
By providing services to both hosts and guests, the company can insert itself as the platform middleman and take a cut of all these transactions - a very lucrative position that further establishes the brand as the go-to platform for experiential travel with a fully local flavor.
What remains to be seen is if consumers are seeking such additional activities - and are willing to pay - and if hosts are looking for additional revenue streams. One potential impact of the food-based offerings is that it could attract a whole new set of customers and hosts, those who may not even be staying in Airbnb listings (or have one to host themselves) but still want to participate in sharing food experiences.
An Airbnb spokesperson said of the test:
We are always experimenting with new ways to create meaningful experiences on Airbnb, we currently don't have any updates to share.
The dining pilot is limited to hosts in San Francisco, and purportedly starts around $25 - although Tnooz has been unable to uncover a specific listing at the time of publication. As with homes, hosts will be able to set their own pricing, timing and menus.
Of course, the per-unit margins for Airbnb on a $25 dinner are much lower than a 5 night stay at $89 per night. Even so, offering hosted meals opens up a huge segment, as there's more consistent demand for food than beds. Meals can also end up with 10 diners, still providing a healthy overall revenue per hosted meal.
Locals can also be engaged to use Airbnb, meaning that loyal Airbnb customers can use the platform while at home, emphasizing the brand position and ensuring top-of-mind throughout the experiential lifecycle.
NB: Dinner table image courtesy Shutterstock.