Animal memes inspire an Airbnb service hotel concierges can't match

Airbnb, the vacation rental platform loved by travelers and loathed by many apartment buildings, is broadening its appeal before a 2020 stock offering with a venture into animal tourism.

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It's far more than a visit to a zoo, however: Users of the home-sharing company can choose from more than 1,000 options that let them do everything from observe animals in a natural setting to play with them. Choices include paddleboarding with corgis, honeybee therapy with urban beekeepers, afternoon tea with sheep and skateboarding with a bulldog. Multi-day safaris are another option.

The experiences are hosted by experts “as an antidote to typical tourist attractions that are notorious for ethical concerns" and underpinned by a new animal welfare policy developed with the international non-profit animal welfare organization World Animal Protection.

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“With technology taking up so much of our lives, it’s easy to feel disconnected from nature and animals,” said Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky. “Maybe this is why social media is dominated by animal memes. Life is better with animals, but for many busy people, looking at them through a screen is the closest they can get. With Airbnb Animal Experiences, locals and travelers are just a few clicks away from being alongside them in the real world.“

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The move marks Airbnb's latest effort to expand beyond its core product. To attract guests who didn’t warm to its couch-surfer reputation, the company previously added boutique hotels and special designations for verified, high-quality properties. Since 2016, it has also been offering experiences, letting guests book local tours, cooking classes and other activities.

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Since its inception in 2008, San Francisco-based Airbnb has grown into one of the world’s largest home-sharing platforms, rivaled only by Booking.com. According to the company, six guests are checking into an Airbnb listing every second. The company boasts listings in more than 99,800 cities around the world with over 900 cities having more than 1,000 listings.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.