Move Over Richard. You’ve Got Company


Could Airbnb be the next Virgin? Richard Branson led the way in the 1980s stretching his brand to cover everything from airlines to trains and mobile phones to vodka…even weddings.

Airbnb’s vision may not be quite so grand, but it will still send shivers down the backs of its competitors. The fast growing company announced earlier this  week that it intends to go beyond its already hugely successful accommodation services and now wants to take care of your entire trip.

Its vision is to be an ‘all-inclusive travel platform’ that will take in booking flights, renting cars and what it calls ‘concierge services’, that’s booking restaurants and organising grocery deliveries  to you and me.

In the 1980s, Richard Branson’s new Virgin Airways took to the skies and showed travelers that they didn’t have to put up with the ‘stuffiness’ that flying with British Airways then offered. And he quickly realised that as his passengers bought into the whole Virgin brand ‘thing’, they would buy lots of other things from him too.

Airbnb has obviously made the same calculation. If you love the freedom, flexibility and ultra low cost offered by Airbnb you’re probably going to buy other stuff from them as well. The company’s baby steps into this brand extension strategy (as marketeers would call it) includes offering guided tours and a new service it calls ‘trips’ – which we can’t help feeling isn’t massively imaginative, but then we’re not marketeers.

It’s also going to offer’ Experiences’ which include ‘audio tours and concerts, even small concerts in people’s homes’. Now this last new service is imaginative as it takes quite a leap in thinking to imagine a concert taking place in your next door neighbour’s living room, but again, what would we know?

To start with, the new trips will be available in twelve cities, including Havana, London and Detroit (?) but this will rapidly expand to over fifty around the world within a year. It’s also going to partner with a whole host of travel services companies that will be able to offer complementary services. No, we haven’t received a call yet.

Airbnb certainly knows what it’s customers want, so we shouldn’t be too dismissive. It only opened for business eight years ago and its revenues already top $900million. Along the way, it persuaded private equity firms to invest $4 billion in it and is now valued at $30 billion. So if it says it’s goal is to take care of every aspect of a trip, it can certainly put its money where it’s mouth is.

Richard Branson spends most of his time now on his private island, Necker Island (available to hire from Virgin Limited Edition, of course) but we think he’d be impressed to see his business model being followed so closely by another start up that’s based its growth around offering customers something new and exciting.



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