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Airbnb takes on tourism industry with new ‘Experiences’ feature

Airbnb on Thursday launched a new effort that, for the first time, allows travelers to use the home-sharing site to do more than book a place to stay.

Through Airbnb Experiences, the San Francisco-based startup seeks to provide travelers with adventures hosted by locals in cities throughout the world. Users can search for activities based on what they are passionate about — everything from tasting whisky, to riding dirt bikes, to hunting for truffles, to learning Korean embroidery.

“The magic is in the people,” co-founder and CEO Brian Chesky said. “It’s all about immersing in local communities.”

Speaking from the stage at the Airbnb Open conference in Los Angeles, Chesky said he wants to make it easy for travelers to plan unique experiences that don’t involve waiting in line at crowded tourist destinations.

“For many people travel is easy, but it’s not magical,” he said, “and if you want to have an amazing trip you end up basically in a research project … pretty soon you can literally spend as much time planning your trip as on your trip. So we want to fix this.”

Experiences can last a few hours, or they can be multi-day “immersion” trips. Half are priced below $200.

Soon travelers also will use the Airbnb platform to make restaurant reservations, Chesky said. And eventually the startup plans to let users book flights on the site as well.

“This is literally just the beginning,” Chesky said.

Expanding into activity-booking brings Airbnb closer to becoming an all-in-one platform, similar to Expedia or Priceline.com, where travelers can book every aspect of their trip. Founded in 2008, Airbnb introduced the world to the concept of renting a spare bedroom or entire home from a stranger, and since then, the company has taken the world by storm.

The startup says it has more than 2 million listings worldwide in more than 34,000 cities and 191 countries. That includes 8,196 properties in the South Bay, according to data from Beyond Pricing, a San Francisco-based startup that helps Airbnb landlords price their listings.

But the $30 billion company faces challenges on the home-sharing front as it prepares to enter the activity-booking market. The company is locked in contentious legal battles with regulators in cities including San Francisco and New York over local rules designed to prevent abundant home-sharing from driving up housing prices for local residents.

In San Francisco, Airbnb this week announced it’s willing to work with regulators to make sure property owners on the platform follow city rules. The startup proposed a new streamlined system to register Airbnb landlords with the city — doing the process directly over the Airbnb platform instead of through in-person trips to city offices.