Martin scrolled down the home listings in Rome for almost 2 hours…
… before deciding on booking “Sunny Side”, a one bedroom, one bath studio located “just a few blocks away from the spectacular Colosseum”. The photos of the place posted on the website were really nice and the homeowner seemed happy to reply to all of Martin’s questions and concerns, and even helped him to plan his arrival from the airport. Martin was very optimistic about this Airbnb rental. That was until he unlocked the rental place door and entered in. What was described and pictured as a “beautiful sunny terrace” was rather a tiny balcony full of disgusting ashtrays, and instead of a snow white bathroom floor that was pictured on a website, the floor color rather resembled a dirty yellowish tone that was definitely not to be touched barefoot. To add up to his disappointment, Martin who does not speak any Italian, had a really hard time finding the street on which the studio was located, and once found he had a feeling like the area was way further from the Colosseum than described on the website, and not as tourist friendly as he expected.
There are plenty of different stories like this one out there, but it is no secret that Airbnb still thrives among other hotel options.
From renting an airbed in a spare room to 3 million rental room listings later, Airbnb has successfully eliminated the friction in travel accommodations in 191 different countries, and has provided homeowners with a new opportunity to generate income. However, Airbnb does not only want to be a room rental portal, the company is moving towards becoming your go-to travel booking company.
Last November, Airbnb has launched its Trips feature, which allows users to book local experiences including all day activities such as city tours, or one-off events such as concerts, football games, restaurant trips and many more. Trips feature also includes access to user recommendations, insider guidebooks, and GPS audio walking tours that allow users to further immerse in local neighborhoods.
This November, the company rolled out a new feature that comes in clutch when you travel with a bigger group. It is a split payment option facilitated by Apple Pay and its newly acquired peer-to-peer payment startup Tilt.
But the company did not stop there.
In its quest to organize your vacation from start to finish, Airbnb has taken the next big step – integrating AR and VR technology into your travel experience.
The company is looking to provide users like Martin with a better look at the rental place they are looking to stay in during their trip.
Augmented Reality ? or Virtual Reality?
The company wants to integrate both technologies into their operations. As for the use of VR, the company plans its integration in the first stage of trip planning to provide users with 360 degree photos and 3D scans that would allow them to step inside a home and city to get a better understanding of what to expect.
As for the use of AR, the company wants to integrate it in the second phase of traveling – when the user is already in its travel destination. The company claims that the use of AR could help guests to better navigate the city by providing them with timely information on bus services, museum hours, directions to get to places, translated labels on objects around them, information about important historical sites or places around, as well as to help them “navigate past cultural differences”.
AR, VR and the Travel Industry
The use of AR and VR in the travel industry is not new. There has already been many companies that have been attempting to give these new technologies a try including Mariott’s Virtual Honeymoon, KLM’s Dreamliner Boeing VR experience, the city of Florence AR travel guide, or even our local Warszawa 44′ AR app created for the Warsaw Uprising Museum that allows users to take a trip back in time.
Not only the travel industry has been experiencing with these technologies. Giants such as Google, Facebook and Apple have been modifying their platforms to fit in the new trends.
What does the future hold?
As of now, Airbnb is in the phase of prototype testing and has not provided any timeline information nor project release dates.
Although the company does have a huge potential to make a use of these technologies to possibly change the way we choose travel destinations, and how we mange to get around, it is still uncertain whether they will be successful in implementing this technologies to make our trips more fun.
So far, there has been a lot of skepticism emerging as to whether the new product will be a viral success, especially when it comes to the use of VR and its need for special headsets.
Because all travelers at one point or another face the same issue of getting lost, communication barriers, finding a place in a good location etc., the AR and VR could definitely be really helpful to first of all, get a real feel of what the place and neighborhood looks like and what’s to do around before actually booking the stay. Second of all, to maximize the time spent in the specific destination and to squeeze the most out of their experiences. If Airbnb is successful in its implementation of these technologies, the future of traveling might transform into a totally new and more advanced stage, where traditional book travel guides will be needed no more.
Although, a giant like Facebook has clearly been struggling with its sell of Oculus headset to make their VR platform go viral and to “transform the way people around the world stay connected with their communities and those closest to them.”, we are curious to see how Airbnb will handle this innovation, and whether the company will be more successful at it than Facebook and prove than AR and VR is not only a buzz word.