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In a move that will surely add heat to the already red-hot, short-term rental world, home sharing giant Airbnb announced a new service this week focused exclusively on luxury properties.

Airbnb Luxe will provide guests with “access to unique and spectacular properties” as well as experiences that are “truly magical,” the company said in a statement. Properties mentioned in the statement as available for rent include castles in France, a Jamaica estate where Ian Flemming wrote spy novels and an island with its own time zone.

Airbnb Luxe listings in the Swiss Alps | Credit: Airbnb

Unlike other Airbnb rentals, which travelers often turn to for budget-friendly alternatives to hotels, Airbnb Luxe will focus only on high-end listings that rent for hundreds or thousands of dollars per night.

As of Wednesday, for example, the average price for the service’s listings in Tuscany, Italy, was $2,699. The least expensive listing in that region was an opulent “honeymoon master suite” overlooking Florence that was asking $512 per night.

A screenshot showing an Airbnb Luxe listing in Tuscany | Credit: Airbnb

Airbnb Luxe also had listings Wednesday in London, Los Angeles, Bali, Costa Rica, the Caribbean and numerous other locations around the world.

In total, the company said in its statement that it had 2,000 “handpicked homes” when the service launched this week.

Airbnb Luxe listings in Bali | Credit: Airbnb

The new service is built on the “deep expertise” Airbnb acquired after it bought Luxury Retreats in 2017, according to the statement. Luxury Retreats was founded in 2002 by Joe Poulin, who today is Airbnb’s vice president of luxury.

While the lavish properties themselves will probably be the main attraction for most customers, the company is also positioning Airbnb Luxe as more of a lifestyle service than a simple lodging provider. Guests, for instance, will have round-the-clock access to “trip designers” who will help with booking, check-in and the “coordination of local bespoke experiences and activities, and arrangement of services including childcare, personal chef, on-site masseuse or pre-stocked fridge.”

“Whether guests are island hopping in the Caribbean, or embarking on a ski holiday in the Alps, our trip designers ensure each getaway is as one-of-a-kind as the individuals taking it,” the company added in its statement. “Creating itineraries based on the guests’ specific goals paired with local insight from on-the-ground experts, trip designers are there to simplify the trip and make sure every traveler has a unique and memorable stay.”

Airbnb also framed the service as an outgrowth of increasing demand for luxury properties and experiences, noting that last year the company saw a 60 percent increase in bookings for properties that cost $1,000 or more per night.

The launch of Airbnb Luxe comes as both Airbnb itself and the broader short-term rental market has seen an explosion of interest. Just this year, Airbnb has acquired a last minute booking app, announced a partnership with a DNA testing company and teamed up with a mortgage refinancing firm.

Late last year, Airbnb also unveiled plans to start designing houses.

Meanwhile, other companies have been gradually encroaching on Airbnb’s turf. Among them, hotel giant Marriott is reportedly working on its own short-term rental platform in April in an effort to stave off Airbnb’s growing market dominance.

Expedia also acquired a pair of home-sharing startups last year, positioning it as a more direct competitor to Airbnb.

Additionally, Google recently began including short-term rentals in its lodging search results.

A host of other companies such as Vacasa have also sprung up to market and manage short-term rentals. However, in many cases these companies actively post their listings on Airbnb and see themselves as having a symbiotic, rather than competitive, relationship with the home-sharing company.

Email Jim Dalrymple II

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