New Airbnb Project Seeks To Boost Small Town Tourism

Image courtesy of Airbnb

Airbnb is moving beyond assisting homeowners in renting out their properties, and is expanding into small town tourism with a new initiative that’s aimed at inventing new projects to draw in more hosts and renters in smaller, less-traveled communities.

The initiative, called Samara — which the company is pitching [PDF] as a “multidisciplinary innovation and design studio” — is intended to dream up new ideas and build new services that support both Airbnb and smaller communities.

“Samara is all about generating new ideas and building products that serve the Airbnb community,” Airbnb co-founder Joe Gebbia said in a statement. “Samara will give us even more space to apply what we’ve learned over the last eight years and create new services for connection, commerce, and social change within the expanding Airbnb community.”

First up is a community housing project and community center in a small Japanese town.

The idea behind the concept came to Airbnb executives after an older woman in Japan opened her home to Airbnb rentals, FastCo reports. While her neighbors questioned if anyone would actually visit the small town, renters began booking the room. Soon, the woman enlisted her neighbors’ assistance as hiking guides, translators, and additional Airbnb hosts to handle the increasing tourist traffic.

When Airbnb executives traveled to Japan they found that this uptick in tourism wasn’t just a one-off; they discovered a need for tourism and a lack of available accommodations, with many homes sitting abandoned.

Gebbia began working with design companies to find a way to both help the communities and his company.

The result was a community center intended to draw new people to the town, serve as a meeting place for residents and visitors, and encourage residents to open up their spare rooms to Airbnb.

For now, the first building — which features a kitchen, communal dining area, and public living room — is being displayed at a home exhibit in Tokyo, but will be moved to Yoshiko once the exhibit closes.

The building will be a bookable Airbnb that is maintained by the community, the company says, noting that proceeds earned from guests who book the listing will be used to “strengthen the cultural legacy and future of the town, which has struggled as young people migrate away from rural communities.”

Gabbia tells FastCo that eventually the company hopes to expand the centers to other areas of the country, or even the world.

“I picture Western guests walking up, stepping inside, and you’re interacting with the community from the minute you arrive. If you want to tour the sake factory, or the chopstick factory, or take a hike, the locals are right there,” he says.

As for the viability of the project, Samara says the company has already received calls from cities in other countries, like China, Korea, and Spain. Additionally, he notes that much of design and building process involves community, meaning locals are already invested in the outcome of the project.

“We’re going to use the lens community to build services that open new doors and new revenue streams for the community,” Gebbia tells FastCo. “That space includes architecture, product design, software design, and new economic models.”

An Exclusive Look At Airbnb’s First Foray Into Urban Planning [FastCo]

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