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Airbnb's hipster city guides are a content-commerce play that might actually work

Look out, Lonely Planet.

Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

Airbnb has long maintained that its home-rental platform is more than just a hospitality industry competitor. CEO Brian Chesky and others stress that Airbnb is also a community of users and hosts, and that customers are paying for that community in addition to the roof over their heads.

Today, Airbnb unveiled an app redesign that highlights all the other stuff Airbnb customers will get, beyond the home they are renting. There are now travel tips and recommendations and a “neighborhood matching system” for users. The biggest new feature, Guidebooks, is what ties all these updates together.

Guidebooks — curated by Airbnb hosts — pits the company against Yelp, Lonely Planet and a number of other different services and publishers that offer travel guides or advice on local attractions. The thinking is that if you spend time rooting around the company’s city guides for Paris or Tel Aviv, you’ll be more likely to book a stay in an Airbnb in those cities.

Airbnb is hardly the first company to attempt marrying content (the city guides) and commerce (the room rental service), but it is something other companies have had trouble succeeding with.

Last fall, Thrillist split its commerce business (JackThreads) from its media business after struggling to find a reason to keep the two under the same roof. Publishers like Gawker Media and the Wirecutter have been able to make it work by slapping Amazon affiliate links to products on their websites, drawing revenue from people who buy stuff through the links.

There’s reason to believe that Airbnb might make this work, however. When people plan trips, one of the first things they check is where they want (or can afford) to stay. If Airbnb keeps the content fresh and inspiring, and suggests personalized trips that get users to plan their travel on the app, Guidebooks and the new app could potentially drive more bookings.

Airbnb raised more than $100 million at a $25.5 billion valuation last fall, and Bloomberg recently reported that it expects to turn a profit later this year. At the last Code conference, CEO Brian Chesky told Kara Swisher that he anticipated taking the company public would be a “two-year project.”

Correction: A previous version of this article said that Chesky expected to take Airbnb public in 2017. Chesky said that he believed an IPO would be a “two-year project” at the 2015 Code conference.

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