SAN FRANCISCO -- Airbnb, a leader in the short-term rental market, today unveiled Airbnb Neighborhoods, the company's first attempt at comprehensive neighborhood guides aimed at giving renters a way to pick the best location for their needs in large cities.
At launch, the new service offers the guides for seven cities: Rio de Janeiro, New York, San Francisco, London, Berlin, Paris, and Washington, D.C.
The idea behind the new service is addressing the possibility that people using Airbnb to find a place to stay in a large city can be overwhelmed by choosing the most appropriate part of town, given the large number of listings available in Airbnb's biggest markets.
In each city, visitors will be able to select from a number of different criteria that are important to them -- shopping, dining, proximity to major attractions, or easy public transportation -- and then the system will generate a list of possible rentals that meet those criteria.
Each city neighborhood section has been designed to provide a rich set of photos illustrating the area's best and most interesting features, along with its description, and a set of tags that help define it. There's also a map showing both how easy (or hard) public transportation is to use, as well as proximity to popular attractions throughout the city.
And while Airbnb obviously wants to highlight neighborhoods' best features, the company also wants people to trust it -- so the photo essays for each area have also been seeded with some "honest" portraits so visitors can know exactly what to expect if they stay there.
Airbnb also wants to make visits to these neighborhoods easier. To do so, the company unveiled what it calls Local Lounges, a pilot program designed to give visitors instant places -- at first mainly coffee shops -- where they can go to relax, get local information, and get online.
The pilot program is launching in San Francisco and features 10 coffee shops in 10 neighborhoods around the city, each of which was chosen because it offers long open hours, free Wi-Fi, and staff eager to help welcome visitors to town.
The neighborhood photo essays will showcase these Local Lounges, and if Airbnb users want, they can get push alerts sent to their mobile devices when they're close to one.
These moves are Airbnb's latest in its attempt to appeal to a wider audience, and to build its value to investors and users alike. Last month, word spread that leading investor Peter Thiel may be in talks to invest as much as $150 million in the room- and house-rental service. If true, that investment, which could be made alongside additional funding from Andreessen Horowitz and Sequoia Capital, could give Airbnb a valuation of about $2.5 billion.
Airbnb, founded in 2008, last year raised a $112 million B round and to date has brought in $120 million in venture funding. It has largely recovered from a public relations disaster in which someone renting a San Francisco flat through the service trashed the place. Subsequently, Airbnb announced it would begin offering owners up to $1 million in insurance against potential damage by renters.