A decade after it started to disrupt the hotel business and the billionaire behind Airbnb is looking to invest his fortune in the airline business to increase its penetration in the travel space. Brian Chesky believes that introducing flights is a logical step for the company, one of the world’s biggest privately owned tech firms, with a value of about GBP22billion.
“We’ve seriously considered a lot of things around aviation and we’ve spent a lot of time exploring different concepts,” he told The Sunday Times in an interview published this weekend. “‘We definitely want to make sure, though, that we can get into the end-to-end trip business.”
The idea that Airbnb could bring disruption into the airline sector is no surprise. Irish lessor Amedeo revealed plans last year to complete a bold move to establish its own airline operation as a solution to finding a home for its Airbus A380 fleet and highlighted the likes of Airbnb, Expedia and Google highlighted as potential partners.
Many believe that the airline business is an attractive proposition for disruption and the slow speed that legacy operators reacted to the arrival of low cost carriers and have been slow to adopt digitalisation and technology strategies suggests the door could be open to a nimble disruptor such as Airbnb.
Since the company launched with a single bed rental in San Francisco flat in 2008, more than 300million people have now used the service and more than 4.5 million properties in 192 countries are now listed on its site. New agreements are now seeing independent chain hotels marketing themselves via the platform.
“Of all the big tech companies, the way Amazon has approached building their business to a one-stop shop for shopping is probably most similar to what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to be a one-stop shop for travel,” added Mr Chesky.
The famous quote from serial airline start-up entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson, most famous for this Virgin Atlantic long haul airline, springs to mind: “If you want to be a millionaire, start with a billion dollars and launch a new airline.” This is a thought that is likely to have been in the back of Mr Chesky’s and has allegedly caused a little conflict within the executive team at Airbnb on the matter and may or may not have been a factor in the departure of CFO Laurence Tosi earlier this month.
You certainly couldn’t say that Airbnb are rushing into the airline idea though. After all, Mr Chesky tweeted a suggestion about a potential airline project back in Apr-2017, stating: “Let’s say you could wave a magic wand and have the perfect flying experience, what would that look like?” He also noted “Flying is an experience waiting to be reimagined” and questioned “what if flying was the best part of travelling?”
Let's say you could wave a magic wand and have the perfect flying experience, what would that look like?
— Brian Chesky (@bchesky) April 12, 2017
As market intelligence, research and data solutions specialist CAPA – Centre for Aviation reported, the airline sector was in “a sweet spot” in 2017, but things are only going to get tougher as the price of fuel rises. With Airbnb’s success based on facilitating overnight stays without the investment in the assets themselves, the thought of starting a traditional airline would appear out of sync; more likely Airbnb could consider the membership or virtual airline concept and look to partner with others or simply secure inventory (aircraft, or simply seats) as required.