Airbnb’s Co-Founder Dishes on Major Overhaul to How Customers Book Lodging

Airbnb co-founder Nathan Blecharczyk has big plans for its new Airbnb Plus program.

On Thursday, Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky announced the program at a media event in San Francisco, pitching it as a more reliable way for booking temporary lodgings that meet the company’s standards. Those homes, which are inspected by Airbnb to make sure they meet certain criteria like cleanliness, will be featured higher in the company’s search rankings, and therefore more visible to users.

In an interview with Fortune, Blecharczyk, the company’s chief strategy officer, characterized Airbnb Plus as the company’s most important new feature.

“Here’s a set of properties that we actually sent someone to inspect,” he said about the difference between the typical homes people see on Airbnb and the 2,000 homes now featured in the Plus program.

To be accepted into the Plus program, homeowners must pay a $149 fee and adhere to a 100-point checklist of criteria like home cleanliness, overall design, and attractiveness. Airbnb has not said whether it would reimburse people who submit their homes for the Plus program, but are rejected.

Blecharczyk said that who the inspectors are varies by market, but that many of them have previously worked for the company as photographers. Airbnb uses contract photographers to take professional images of houses for homeowners for a fee if they want more appealing pictures for their listings. Now, Airbnb is going to arm those freelance photographers with checklists to note whether homes meet certain standards, he explained.

Airbnb developed the checklist through “customer research” and from what it learned from buying high-end rental company Luxury Retreats a year ago in a deal reportedly worth $300 million. Luxury Retreats had its own criteria for choosing resort villas and expensive retreats, and Airbnb adopted some of that for its Airbnb Plus checklist, Blecharczyk explained.

Homeowners accepted into the Airbnb Plus program would receive “premium customer support” that Blecharczyk said would consist of a dedicated customer service team, primarily consisting of outsourced workers.

Blecharczyk aims to have 75,000 homes showcased on Airbnb Plus by the end of the year.

About Chesky’s comments during the day that Airbnb would eventually debut luxury travel packages, Blecharczyk said the company is still figuring it out. Airbnb could create an online service for choosing the packages like they do with homes, or it could use live staff.

While these options are “not something we have talked about or announced,” they’re “certainly within the scope of our longer term vision,” Blecharczyk said.

One thing Blecharczyk is adamant about, however, it that while Airbnb may debut features intended to help people create vacation plans, the company doesn’t intend to become an online travel agency.

“Our storefront is really about selling what we call ‘magical trips,’” Blecharczyk said. He acknowledged that using the term “magic” to describe Airbnb could sound “funny” to some, but he believes it’s the appropriate word for the kinds of “local, unique, and authentic” stays Airbnb aims to deliver.

Finding a place to stay through Airbnb is not simply choosing a temporary roof over one’s head, but involves friendly locals inviting people to their homes and learning about each region’s customs and cultures, he said.

As an example, he cites an Airbnb rental he booked in Hawaii, where he bonded with a musician host who knew the Dalai Lama and showed him “his favorite fishing spot in Maui.” Trips like this wouldn’t be possible in more conventional kinds of lodging.

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Not everyone is happy about Airbnb’s new Plus program. The American Hotel and Lodging Association sent Fortune a comment about the overhaul, accusing Airbnb of “trying to play in the hoteling space while evading industry regulations. “

The association’s complaint is similar to the taxi industry’s stance on Uber and Lyft operating transportation services without adhering to the same regulations they do.

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