From treehouses to medieval castles, Airbnb is known for renting out some of the most distinctive properties in the world. And today, the company is doubling down on that reputation with its new OMG! Fund—which will award $10 million in funding to Airbnb hosts to build “100 of the craziest and most unique property ideas.”
From now until July 22, Airbnb will accept submissions from architects, designers, and everyday people who have an idea of how $100,000 could reimagine their property as a spectacular destination unto itself. Winners will receive a grant to transform their property into said vision that, when completed, will be rentable on Airbnb’s “OMG!” category of hyperbolic, experiential homes, which already include a giant boot house and UFO. Submissions will be judged by the celebrated architect Koichi Takada, designer and fashion icon Iris Apfel, Airbnb VP of experiential creative product Bruce Vaughn, and Kirstie Wolf (an Airbnb host with several successful OMG! listings).
It would be completely fair to point out that the OMG! Fund is a shrewd, grassroots marketing ploy. Everyone loves free money! And the fund is essentially a pile of well-branded small-business grants, helping anyone who’d like to host on Airbnb to improve their properties with less financial risk—all while producing vacation venues that could go viral in the process. (The only catch to receiving a grant is that you must list the space upon its completion on Airbnb, and you can’t list it on any other short-term rental platform for a year.)
But the OMG! Fund is about more than mere marketing. In May, the company debuted its biggest redesign in a decade. Airbnb’s entire user interface is now prioritizing individual homes as a destination as much as it does any individual city. That means you might choose to stay in an A-frame cabin or a tiny home first . . . then figure out where in the world you’re going to do that.
“We’re in 100,000 cities. Very few people can think to type in more than 20 places [into a search bar],” said Brian Chesky, CEO of Airbnb, at the time. “So what happens? Everyone ends up going to the same places. Everyone goes to Vegas and Miami and New York and Paris and Rome and London.”
The company’s OMG! category, which launched alongside the redesign in May, features just the sort of outrageous, aspirational properties that Chesky imagines can snap people out of their city-based travel rut. Such a property might be a caboose in Virginia, or a hobbit hole in Tennessee, or a grain bin in Iowa. These are homes that spark a sense of curiosity, regardless of where they’re located. And for a mere $10 million investment—the price of a single big ad campaign—Airbnb’s hosts will produce 100 more of these properties worldwide.
What will be interesting to watch isn’t just the results that we see from Airbnb, but also if and how the big hotel companies across the world respond with unique room listings of their own. Because as Airbnb enhances the spectacle of travel, hotels as we know them may seem quite dull. Then again, maybe their predictability will provide a refreshing counterpoint.