Posts with «travel organizations» label

Airbnb will soon let you open smart locks in its app

Winter is almost upon us and Airbnb has announced a new feature that could help folks avoid fumbling for keys while wearing a bunch of layers. Starting in the US and Canada later this year, Airbnb hosts who are in the invite-only Early Access program will be able to link compatible smart locks to their Airbnb account and generate a unique code for each reservation. Guests will then be able to input the code in the Airbnb app to open the lock. At the outset, Airbnb will support some models from Schlage, August and Yale.

That could make some Airbnb pain points much easier to deal with. Hosts won't have to worry about bad actors sharing entry codes with other people after they check out, and guests should find it more straightforward to find and enter their code. They also won't have to download a separate app if they're staying at a place that uses a compatible smart lock.

Airbnb is making a string of other changes as part of its winter update. You'll be able to access a collection of the 2 million most-loved homes on the platform. These Guest Favorites all have an average rating of above 4.9 with high marks for things like value, the check in process, cleanliness, listing accuracy, host communication and location. Hosts of Guest Favorites will all have strong track records of reliability and almost two-thirds of the listings are from Superhosts.

You'll soon start seeing a badge denoting a listing as a Guest Favorite on the listing page and in search results. There'll also be an option to filter results by Guest Favorites.

Elsewhere, you'll be able to sort reviews by recency or rating, while a new chart should make the distribution of reviews on the five-star scale easier to grok. When you leave a review, you'll be able to include more details that may be useful for context, such as where you're from, how long you stayed and whether you traveled with family, another group or pets. Airbnb is starting to roll out the reviews and Guest Favorites updates this week.

Since last year, Airbnb has been making its pricing more transparent. To that end, service fees will now be included in the prices that hosts set. According to Airbnb, that will give hosts a better idea of how much guests are paying overall. It should be easier for hosts to compare their prices to similar listings through the calendar too.

Hosts will have access to other new listing tools, such as an Ai-powered photo tour. Airbnb says its AI engine can recognize photos and assign them to up to 19 rooms to help guests better understand the layouts of properties. Hosts will be able to edit the photo tour whenever they like and pinpoint amenities in each room.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

Airbnb's next focus appears to be long-term rentals

Airbnb chief executive Brian Chesky told the Financial Times that the company is going "a little bit beyond its core business" starting next year. Chesky wants Airbnb to expand its focus and is currently planning a push into long-term rentals. The service already offers monthly rentals, but apparently, only 18 percent of gross nights booked in the second quarter of 2023 come from stays longer than 30 days. Chesky believes the company can do more to drum up interest in long-term bookings and that offering rentals for up to a year represents a "huge opportunity." 

"In this post-pandemic world, there's this   unrecognized market of a month, two months, three months, because people can work from laptops, people are going away for the summer," he told the publication. 

Chesky's plan, if executed well, could be what the company needs to be able to regain lost NYC listings. The city used to be one of the biggest Airbnb markets with the most number of listings available, but officials recently started enforcing new regulations that wiped out most of them. NYC mandated that hosts will have to lodge an application to be able to rent homes to guests for less than 30 days, and it has reportedly been slow to issue approvals. Further, hosts can only rent out homes for short-term stays if they're also staying there, and only two guests are allowed at any one time. 

In addition to putting a focus on long-term rentals, Chesky also intends to expand its experiences selection, so it could offer more "things to do on your trip." He presented more ideas under consideration to the Times, as well, including dining pop-ups and car rentals. "The second biggest asset usually in someone's life after their home is their car," he said. "That'll be the next thing." His statement hints at a business model similar to services like Turo's, which people have been calling "Airbnb for cars."

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

NYC’s ‘de facto ban’ on Airbnb is already removing listings

Those firing up Airbnb to look for a short-term rental in New York City right now may find the pickings a bit slim. Officials in the city have started enforcing new regulations mandating that hosts will have to file a registration application — and meet a set of requirements — to be able to rent homes to guests for less than 30 days. Hosts can only rent out homes for short-term stays if they're also staying there, and only two guests are allowed at a time. These requirements are part of old and existing rules on rentals, however, and only the Short-Term Rental Registration Law itself is new.

NYC's Office of Special Enforcement said on its website that on September 5, it started collaborating with booking platforms like Airbnb and Vrbo to ensure that they're honoring the city's verification system. These companies will now have to check whether hosts listing their homes for stays less than 30 days have been approved by authorities. According to The New York Times, only 257 application registrations have been approved so far out of the 3,250 that were lodged as of August 28. That would mean thousands of listings could be removed from Airbnb, seeing as the company estimates that almost 15,000 hosts had short-term rental listings across NYC as recent as last month. 

Airbnb called the law a "de facto ban" on short-term rentals and filed a lawsuit, which was dismissed last month, to try and block its enforcement. Theo Yedinsky, the company's global policy director, said the rules "are a blow to [NYC's] tourism economy" and that "[t]he city is sending a clear message to millions of potential visitors who will now have fewer accommodation options when they visit New York City: you are not welcome." 

The city's authorities argued that enforcing the new law would help prevent housing "being lost to the practice of illegal" short-term rentals. Hosts renting out homes for short periods contributes to the housing shortage, they said, and makes it more expensive to live in the city as a result. 

Airbnb told The Times and CNN that reservations with a check-in on or before December 1 will not be cancelled, but the company will refund the fees it received related to those stays to comply with the new rules. Meanwhile, all bookings starting on December 2 will be cancelled, and guests will be refunded. In addition, hosts will find their listings converted to long-term rentals only if they allow bookings of 30 days or more on the platform. All listings that only allow short-term bookings will be deactivated. 

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

Virgin Galactic completes its final VSS Unity flight test before space tourism debut

Virgin Galactic is finally on the cusp of launching its space tourism business. After a late start, the company has completed its last VSS Unity flight test before commercial service starts. The Unity 25 mission tested both technical functionality and the overall experience for astronauts, and reached space at roughly 12:26PM Eastern. The launch also made a little history: crew member Jamila Gilbert became the first female astronaut from New Mexico, according to Virgin. Gilbert and fellow crewmates Chris Huie, Luke Mays and Beth Moses are all Virgin employees.

The company has delayed this test multiple times. The final delay stemmed from difficulties upgrading the VMS Eve host aircraft, which ferries Unity to 50,000 feet. Virgin completed an unpowered test flight in late April, but its first crewed flight dates back to July 2021, when founder Richard Branson joined Moses, Sirisha Bandla and Colin Bennett for Unity 22. Unity 25 is Virgin's fifth spaceflight of any kind.

The successful test is important for Virgin. It has operated at a loss for years as it kept pushing back its space tourism plans, and lost over $500 million in 2022 alone. While the company hasn't said when it expects to fly paying customers, it needs those passengers' $450,000 tickets to help recoup its investment. Now, it's more a matter of firming up details than overcoming technological hurdles.

Virgin trails Blue Origin, which is already launching civilians into space. It's closer to passenger spaceflights than SpaceX, though. While Elon Musk's outfit announced its lunar tourism plans years ago, it has yet to send a Starship rocket into space with crew aboard. Not that SpaceX is necessarily concerned. Virgin is focused on less ambitious (if also less expensive) suborbital flights where Starship will be used for both tourists' lunar orbits and NASA's Moon landings.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

Virgin Orbit gets stripped for parts as the company shuts down

Once-successful Virgin Orbit has been sold for parts at auction after the company declared bankruptcy in April. In a $16.1 million deal, Rocket Lab USA, a small satellite launch provider and aerospace manufacturer, bought Virgin Orbit's 144,000 square foot Long Beach headquarters and a variety of on-site machinery and equipment.

Rocket Lab USA is currently developing Neutron, a larger launch vehicle, from its headquarters, conveniently also located in Long Beach. In a statement about the purchase, Peter Beck, Rocket Lab's CEO and founder, said adding Virgin Orbit's lease "provides co-located engineering, manufacturing and test capabilities for our Neutron team."

The now-defunct Virgin Orbit started in 2017 as an off-shoot of Virgin Galactic, billionaire Richard Branson's space tourism venture. Its goal was to use a modified Boeing 747 aircraft, known as Cosmic Girl, to deploy small satellites into low Earth orbit, but only four of its six flights since its first in 2020 have been successful. The company attempted to save money through methods like going public in 2021 and, most recently, furloughing its 750 or so employees. However, they weren't enough, and the company reported a $191.2 million net loss for 2022. In April, Virgin Orbit officially declared bankruptcy and laid off most of its employees.

In total, Virgin Orbit has earned just over $36 million from bankruptcy sales, CNBC reported. Cosmic Girl sold for $17 million to Stratolaunch, creator of the world's largest plane. A small satellite transport business, Launcher, paid an additional $2.7 million for Virgin Orbit's launch site in the Mojave Desert — about a six-hour drive from their south Los Angeles headquarters. Launcher is owned by Vast, a company attempting to launch the first private space station.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

Uber starts offering flight bookings in the UK

Uber has started offering domestic and international flight bookings in the UK and will continue rolling it out across the whole region over the coming weeks, according to the Financial Times. The company's general manager for the UK, Andrew Brem, told the publication that this is "the latest and most ambitious step" it has taken to achieve its goal to become a wider travel booking platform. 

Uber first revealed its plans to add train, bus and flight bookings to its UK app in April last year and launched the first two options a few months later. Brem said train bookings have been "incredibly popular" so far and have grown 40 percent every month since they became available, though he didn't give the Times concrete ticket sales numbers. 

For its flights, the company has teamed up with travel booking agency Hopper. The Times says Uber will take a small commission from each sale and could add a booking fee on top of its offerings in the future. It's unclear how much the company's cut actually is, but it charges its partner drivers 25 percent on all fares. As the Times notes, offering flight bookings could also help grow Uber's main ride-hailing business even further, since users are likely to book rides to and from the airport through the service, as well. 

Although flight bookings are only available in the UK at the moment, the region — one of its biggest markets outside North America — only serves as a testing ground for Uber's plans. Brem told the publication that the company is hoping to expand flight offerings to more countries in the future, but it has no solid plans yet. Uber did offer $200 chopper rides in the US back in 2019, but that service was discontinued in the midst of pandemic-related lockdowns. 

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

Airbnb refocuses on cheap rooms as its rentals get pricier

The pandemic is over, according to Airbnb (that's debatable), so the company is gearing up for a massive summer of vacationing. It's introducing over 50 new features to its rental platform, including an expansion of the more transparent pricing it unveiled last year. Most importantly, though, it's refocusing on the pitch that made the company a success: Being able to easily rent low-cost rooms. It's relaunching that experience as "Airbnb Rooms," which will make it easier to find private rooms, as well as offer more details up-front to potential renters. 

A new "Host Passport" feature will help you get to know hosts before booking, a useful feature since you'll most likely be sharing their living space. Listings can also show if a bedroom has its own lock, and if the bathrooms are private or shared with the host. “Airbnb Rooms are often more affordable than hotels, and they’re the most authentic way to experience a city," Airbnb co-founder and CEO Brian Chesky said in a statement. "This is the soul of Airbnb.”

The company says it'll have over a million Airbnb Rooms listings, and that more than 80 percent of them will cost under $100 a night. Given how much Airbnb prices have skyrocketed over the last few years, as hosts pumped up cleaning costs and built mini-rental empires, it makes sense for the company to highlight its more affordable offerings. For many travelers, including this reporter, hotels often seem cheaper and easier to book than many Airbnb options. 

As for other upgrades, Airbnb will also let you view checkout instructions before completing a booking (which could be a useful red flag for potential nightmare hosts), it's improved map performance and revamped wishlists completely (including the ability to write notes). The company is also reducing service fees for stays longer than three months, as well as for stays longer than a month if you pay with a linked bank account. Not surprisingly, Airbnb is also getting into the pay over time game with a new partnership with Klarna.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

Airbnb is banning people ‘likely to travel’ with prohibited users

Airbnb is reportedly banning users who, despite having a clear background, were associated with people the company deems a safety risk. Although the short-term rental company faces an impossible balancing act of making owners feel secure without discriminating unfairly against renters, its appeals process — a critical step in catching overreaches — sounds lackluster and confusing while erring on the side of perceived homeowner security.

Airbnb confirmed to Motherboard that it sometimes refuses to rent to users associated with banned individuals “likely to travel” with them. For example, in January, Airbnb informed a user named Amanda that she was prohibited from the platform due to being “closely associated with a person who isn’t allowed to use Airbnb.” Amanda used the credit card of her boyfriend — who has a criminal record — to book the rental. (Amanda doesn’t have a criminal record.) She told Motherboard that her partner’s flagged history was from “a white collar charge” while adding that the two don’t share an address or bank account.

Two days after appealing the ban, Airbnb informed her it was upholding it “after careful consideration” to help “safeguard our community.” Then, it slammed the door shut on the case, adding that it wouldn’t “offer additional support on this case at this time.” Although the company is less than transparent about how long it’s enacted this process or how often it uses it, its procedures require one of two things to appeal successfully: the banned acquaintance causing their prohibition successfully appeals their ban, or the person attempting to rent proves they aren’t “closely associated” with the problematic person. 

Either way, the company’s subliminal message has concerning undertones: Associate with someone with a checkered past — regardless of who they are today — and neither of you can use our platform.

Airbnb is a private business, and Amanda could try booking through a competitor — or simply get a hotel room. Further, we don’t know the precise details about why her boyfriend was banned in the first place. But the company’s approach highlights a more significant issue we may see again as Big Tech’s ability to profile users grows more advanced. (The company already uses “anti-party tech,” and competitor Vrbo used what’s essentially pre-crime for house parties during the Super Bowl.) 

So where do you draw the line? Airbnb’s answer appears to be a cynical calculation that risking negative press about banning acquaintances — perhaps unfairly — is preferable to anything that could make homeowners feel less secure about using the service.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

Airbnb will improve transparency around pricing

Booking a stay through Airbnb can be a chore for a few reasons. Chief among those is the fact it's not always easy to tell at a glance how much you'll pay for your vacation rental, since the cleaning fee or security deposit may not appear until after you click on a listing. However, Airbnb is at last set to make pricing a bit more transparent.

CEO Brian Chesky wrote on Twitter that, starting next month, the company will offer the option to see the full price of a stay in search results, and on the map, price filter and listings pages. You'll still be able to see a breakdown of the full price, including Airbnb's service fee and any discounts. Moreover, Chesky says Airbnb will prioritize total price rather than nightly price in its ranking algorithm. "The highest quality homes with the best total prices will rank higher in search results," Chesky said.

I’ve heard you loud and clear—you feel like prices aren’t transparent and checkout tasks are a pain. That’s why we’re making 4 changes:

1. Starting next month, you’ll be able to see the total price you're paying up front.

— Brian Chesky (@bchesky) November 7, 2022

This is by and large a positive move, since the per-night prices shown in search results don't tell the whole story. Hosts may charge different cleaning fees or even fees for extra guests that aren't immediately apparent. Showing (almost) the full price upfront should make it easier for folks to compare listings while reducing sticker shock at checkout.

There is one drawback, though. The price that you see in search results and on the map still doesn't include taxes. It would be helpful to see that at the jump as well, particularly given that many hotel booking sites show the full price with taxes included in search results. "Our thinking was that since prices in the US are typically displayed pre-tax, that we should go with this convention," Chesky wrote.

Elsewhere, Chesky said that Airbnb will offer hosts more pricing and discount tools. He noted that hosts want a clearer understanding of the full price users pay and what they should charge to help them stay competitive. Chesky added that users shouldn't have to undertake "unreasonable" checkout tasks like vacuuming or stripping the bedding. He noted that simple actions like turning off lights, chucking food in the trash and locking doors are reasonable, and that hosts should communicate those kinds of checkout requests before a booking is made.

Airbnb starts testing anti-party tech in the US and Canada

Airbnb is starting to test anti-party technology in the US and Canada. It announced a permanent ban on all parties and events at host properties worldwide back in June. Airbnb brought in such rules on a temporary basis after the COVID-19 pandemic hit to abide by social distancing restrictions.

The company began trialing similar tech in Australia last October. Airbnb says it was able to reduce the number of unauthorized parties in areas where it was using the tools by 35 percent. It's now rolling out the system more broadly in that country.

The anti-party tools look at several factors to detect "potentially high-risk reservations." They consider elements such as how long the prospective guest has had an Airbnb account, how far away the listing is from where they're based and their history of positive reviews. The system will also bear in mind the length of the trip and whether someone is trying to make a booking during the week or at the weekend.

It may, for instance, flag a planned stay of one or two nights over a weekend in the same city where the guest lives. Airbnb says that users who are precluded from staying at an entire home because of these measures can still book a hotel room or a private room. The host is more likely to be at the property in the latter case.

The company says it's trying to tackle unauthorized parties to the best of its ability. This system builds on tools that had a narrower focus on guests aged under 25, particularly those who wanted to stay nearby and didn't have positive reviews. Airbnb noted that the tools can't entirely prevent parties from taking place at listings. It has a tip line for neighbors to contact staff if they believe a party is taking place at a nearby host property or they have other concerns.

"We anticipate that this new system will help prevent more bad actors on our platform while having less of a blunt impact on guests who are not trying to throw a party," Airbnb wrote in a blog post. "While we are consistently willing to make trade-offs in the interests of building trust, our goal is to make these systems as precise and fair as possible to support our hosts and guests." Looking ahead, the company says it will detail the results of the test in the US and Canada and reveal other measures it plans to take to stamp out unauthorized parties.