How Airbnb's New Neighborhoods Feature Can Revive Local Economies

Instead of just mindlessly wandering the Times Squares of the world’s cities, the house-sharing site is now helping to open up more exciting neighborhoods to interested travelers.

Whenever I happen to be walking near San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf area—ground zero for tourists—I want to yell at passersby: "Get out of here! There are so many more vibrant parts of the city that you could be visiting." But of course, travel guides don’t always provide the best advice and most hotels are clustered in the nearby downtown area. As a result, less central (but often more exciting) neighborhoods miss out on tourist dollars that could keep local businesses thriving. It’s a similar story in cities around the world.

If you’re an adventurous traveler who wants to stay in a neighborhood that’s a bit off the beaten path, you’ll probably look at home listings on Airbnb. But up until now, there hasn’t been a way to gauge whether staying in a given area makes logistical sense for where you want to visit, or whether the location suits your temperament. Airbnb announced that it’s trying to make neighborhoods more accessible with the appropriately named "Airbnb Neighborhoods"—a feature that gives guests access to detailed information about neighborhoods, courtesy of locals.

The feature, which is kicking off with 300 neighborhoods in seven cities (New York, Paris, London, San Francisco, Berlin, Washington DC, Rio de Janeiro), harnesses information from hundreds of conversations with locals—Airbnb went so far as to fly a team of "neighborhood experts" to its headquarters—as well as 40,0000 photographs from well-known street photographers. The result looks something like a picture book for neighborhoods.

Airbnb guests can search neighborhoods by attributes (great transit, peace and quiet, loved by locals, stunning views, etc.), view tags suggested by users (i.e. charming, quaint, artsy), check out local listings, and see where each each neighborhood is in relation to other areas and city landmarks. The company hired its own cartographer to hand-map neighborhoods.

I can’t speak to the accuracy of the feature in most of the pilot cities, but I do know San Francisco. And Airbnb is right on the mark in my neighborhood of Bernal Heights, which is off the beaten path for almost all tourists. It highlights the the expansive farmer’s market, the breathtaking city views, unique architecture, and dog-friendliness—all things I would talk up with a visitor to the area.

Just in case you still feel disoriented while visiting a neighborhood, Airbnb is partnering with coffee shops—starting in San Francisco—to create Local Lounges, or places where travelers can access free WiFi, local advice, and guidebooks.

Airbnb’s Neighborhoods feature makes the site competitive with TripAdvisor, Hipmunk, Frommers, and other sites aiming to provide traveler’s tips. But while the service may be bad news for competitors, it’s great for neighborhoods that may not be used to hosting tourists.

Airbnb has some serious economic power: according to a recent study from HR&A Advisors, Airbnb guests in San Francisco stay in their accommodations for an average of 5.5 days and spend approximately $1,045 on transportation, shopping, and food. At the same time, 90% of guests visiting San Francisco (and presumably other cities) prefer to stay in areas that are "off the beaten track." Score one for the Bernal Heights’s of the world.

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  • Pamela Winner

    You defiantly need to do this in New Orleans! It's hard to know where it's safe and unless you click on the given areas of French Quarter or Frenchman's St. It's hard to get a good sense. When there's a big festival both those locations are booked months in advance and triple in price! It's hard to book a flight when the property owner has so many choices of people and can charge pretty much whatever! I go to NOLA once a year but I need to know I'm safe because I go alone. Please the other owners in different areas of NOLA deserve a chance also!

  • Diannetmcninch

    I want my Downtown Long Beach California neighborhood featured. Long Beach is perfect for any traveler in Southern California, freeway close to everything! We have small town charm in the middle of Southern California. Great restaurants, eclectic airbnb hosts, bike friendly atmosphere, arts district, historic districts, awe inspiring port complex......feature us!!

  • Pamela Winner

    She's right I live down there. Especially Belmont Shore area which is close to Down town and the Pike area on the water! So much to do in Long Beach Ca!


  • Laurel Anderson

    Neat idea for big cities but how are you going to share the concept with rural locations? Our little city (which now boasts its 2nd street light)  in-between the Grand Canyon/Zion/Bryce/Lake Powell etc. is a classic example of a place where 1) being a small town we are lesser known despite our tremendous location & 2) There is SO MUCH else to do around here other than the famous WAVE hike/Zion/Antelope Canyon etc. the "off the beaten track" concept is important to our marketing ...

  • Jeannine Mohler

     Check out airbnb's Facebook. Many hosts are very unhappy w/ the new feature and have seen their inquiries and bookings plummet since it's launch as have I.  I live in Southwest DC which is a wonderful neighborhood which fits into many of the categories they allow users to search yet they don't even have Southwest listed. In fact, Southwest is the closest neighborhood to the National Mall AND most museums are located in the neighborhood so one would think they would definitely cover that area.... Essentially they are taking business away from me rather than promoting my property. I've contacted them on this but they just say they'll "eventually" list my neighborhood meanwhile I'm losing guests. Not cool.

  • Guest

    It's a new feature and an evolving company.  More neighborhoods are being added. There's also more listings now because of its growing popularity.  I completely disagree with you that the feature is taking away business from you...there are several other factors of demand.  If you are priced right and have good reviews, you shouldn't have a problem renting your property.  

  • Fern Lindsay

    Hi Jeannine
    As an Airbnb host I know that a lot of hosts are missing out as a result of "Neighborhoods" A potentially good idea badly executed. Many very central neighborhoods are not listed in the new system and hosts in these don't get bookings anymore.

  • Jennifer James

    This makes perfect sense. I recently rented an apartment in Rio. I stayed in Copacabana but needed to be in Barra every day. Not good! Glad to see this new development.