Airbnb Makes First Acquisition as Public Company, Buys AI Startup

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Airbnb has made its first acquisition since going public in 2020, purchasing artificial intelligence startup Gameplanner.AI for just under $200 million. The deal marks Airbnb’s intent to integrate more AI technology into its platform to enhance the user experience.

Gameplanner.AI was founded in 2020 and has operated in stealth mode, away from the public eye. The startup was co-founded by Adam Cheyer, one of the original creators of the Siri voice assistant acquired by Apple. Cheyer also co-founded Viv Labs, the technology behind Samsung’s Bixby voice assistant.

With the acquisition, Airbnb is bringing Cheyer’s AI expertise in-house. In a statement, Airbnb said Gameplanner.AI will accelerate development of AI projects designed to match users to ideal travel recommendations.

Airbnb’s CEO Brian Chesky has previously outlined plans to transform Airbnb into a “travel concierge” that learns about user preferences over time. The integration of Gameplanner.AI’s technology could allow Airbnb to provide highly personalized suggestions for homes and experiences based on an individual’s travel history and interests.

For example, the AI could recommend beach houses for a user that has booked seaside destinations in the past, or suggest museums and restaurants suited to a traveler’s tastes. This would enhance the trip planning experience and help users discover new, relevant options.

The acquisition aligns with Chesky’s vision to have AI play a central role in Airbnb’s future. With Gameplanner.AI’s specialized knowledge, Airbnb can refine its AI models and more seamlessly incorporate predictive data, natural language processing, and machine learning across its apps and website.

Strategic First Acquisition for Airbnb

The purchase of Gameplanner.AI is Airbnb’s first acquisition since going public in December 2020. The deal could signal a shift in Airbnb’s M&A strategy as it looks to supplement organic growth with targeted acquisitions.

The ability to tap into Gameplanner.AI’s talent pool and proprietary technology accelerates Airbnb’s timeline for deploying more sophisticated AI tools. Developing similar capabilities in-house could have taken years and delayed the introduction of new AI features.

Acquiring an established startup with proven expertise allows Airbnb to boost its competitive edge in AI much faster. As travel continues to rebound from the pandemic, Airbnb can capitalize on these enhancements sooner to attract and retain users.

The Gameplanner.AI deal is relatively small for Airbnb, which as of September 2023 held $11 billion in cash and liquid assets on its balance sheet. But the acquisition could pave the way for more M&A deals that augment Airbnb’s core business.

As Airbnb branches out into new offerings like Airbnb Experiences and long-term rentals, the company may seek to acquire startups innovating in these spaces as well. For investors, Airbnb’s renewed openness to acquisitions makes it a more well-rounded and potentially appealing target.

AI Race in Travel Heats Up

Airbnb’s acquisition also comes amid surging demand for AI across the travel industry. Google is rumored to be investing hundreds of millions into a startup called Character AI that creates virtual travel companions powered by artificial intelligence.

Character AI lets users chat with AI versions of celebrities and public figures, including a virtual travel advisor designed to mimic the personality and advice of Sir David Attenborough.

With travel demand rebounding sharply, Google and Airbnb are demonstrating the value of AI for reinventing the trip planning and booking process. Both companies recognize the technology’s potential for driving personalization and convenience in the fiercely competitive sector.

As part of the wider rush to AI adoption, expect Airbnb’s move to spur more activity in the space as other travel platforms vie to enhance customer experiences through intelligent automation. The Gameplanner.AI acquisition gives Airbnb first-mover advantage, but likely won’t be the last pivot toward AI we see in the industry.

For Airbnb, integrating advanced AI unlocks tremendous opportunity to tighten its grip on the global accommodation and experiences market. With innovation led by strategic acquisitions like this, Airbnb aims to extend its position as the premier one-stop shop for travel.


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