In Latest Stunt, Airbnb Lists the ‘Up’ House. It Floats.

The company announced a new category of outlandish stays in partnership with brands and celebrities, building on the success of gimmicks like the Barbie Malibu DreamHouse.

A man in a black shirt and jeans stands on the steps of a replica of the house from the 2009 Pixar film “Up.” A large collection of balloons is tethered to its roof.
Brian Chesky, the chief executive of Airbnb, with a replica of the house from the Pixar film “Up.” The house, which will be suspended over the New Mexico desert by a crane, will be available to rent as part of Airbnb’s new “Icons” series. Credit…J. Emilio Flores for The New York Times

The sleek mansion in the hills overlooking Las Vegas could have been featured on MTV’s “Cribs.” But the highlight of Aubrey Garza’s weekend stay there wasn’t the palatial rooms or the marble fireplace. It was meeting her Airbnb host: Christina Aguilera.

“It just felt like a dream,” Ms. Garza, 26, said. When she was growing up, her bedroom was decorated with posters of the pop star. Ms. Garza had nabbed one of the “once-in-a-lifetime” promotional stays that Airbnb has occasionally listed in recent years.

The popular, if rare, listings have included not only private hangouts with celebrities but also stays in a Barbie mansion modeled on the one from the hit movie and a replica of Shrek’s swamp dwelling in the Scottish Highlands.

On Wednesday, Airbnb announced that it was expanding stunt promotions like these under a new permanent category called “Icons,” featuring unusual and ambitious partnerships with brands and celebrities

At a news conference in Los Angeles on Wednesday, Brian Chesky, Airbnb’s chief executive, introduced the inaugural slate of Icons listings.

It was headlined by a replica of the floating house from “Up,” the 2009 animated Pixar film, balloons and all. With the help of a giant crane, the house will be suspended high in the air over the New Mexico desert.

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Mr. Chesky in Los Angeles on Wednesday. With Icons, he said, Airbnb is hoping to capitalize on the success that earlier listings have achieved as promotional tools, ready-made for Instagram selfies and eye-catching headlines. Credit…J. Emilio Flores for The New York Times

Asked whether the house, which does not appear to be connected to the ground by pipes or wiring, had plumbing and electricity, the company said it was “fully functional.” Asked for details, the company said the house “is connected to a generator and other utilities that will be disconnected and reconnected before and after flying.”

Other listings include a recreation of the mansion from the “X-Men ’97” cartoon, built to appear two-dimensional, and the Minneapolis house where Prince’s character lived in the 1984 film “Purple Rain.”

Only a few people have been able to stay in Airbnb’s previous fantastical listings, but the company said it expected roughly 4,000 customers to book stays in Icons listings in 2024.

Another 10 listings are slated to go up by the end of the year. Booking periods will vary. Dates for the “Up” house are open through mid-September.

With Icons, Airbnb is hoping to capitalize on the success that earlier listings have achieved as promotional tools, ready-made for Instagram selfies and eye-catching headlines, Mr. Chesky said. (Yes, we fell for it.)

He pointed to the success of Airbnb’s collaboration with Mattel last summer, which brought the Malibu DreamHouse to life ahead of the release of the blockbuster “Barbie” film. The buzz interested other brands.

“I think what they’ve seen is that these prior Icons have become cultural sensations, quite literally,” Mr. Chesky said in a phone interview.

The Barbie listing got two to three times as much press coverage as when Airbnb went public in 2020, Mr. Chesky said. The Shrek Swamp listing was viewed on the platform more than 200 million times.

For a sign of what customers can expect, the stay two-night stay that Ms. Garza won by submitting a booking request for the Las Vegas mansion (“Hosted by Christina,” according to the listing) earlier this year offers a clue.

Ms. Garza, her older sister and two friends chatted with Ms. Aguilera over drinks and dinner inside an ornate mansion with glass walls and high ceilings, an infinity pool with chic deck chairs, a lofty balcony with sweeping views of the city, pink accented furnishings fit for a girls weekend getaway. (The lodging was free; all Ms. Garza had to pay for was the flight there.)

For Airbnb, the payoff of such listings is in maintaining relevance and simultaneously generating a reliable stream of positive attention that can help counter the negative press reports it has faced over hidden costs, hidden cameras and the disruptive effects that short-term rentals can have on communities.

Sean Hennessy, an associate professor at the Jonathan M. Tisch Center of Hospitality at New York University, said the Icons initiative appeared to be an effort by Airbnb to “change the narrative” and rekindle the allure it enjoyed in its early days, when it became extremely popular in a short period by offering travelers an alternative to staying at a hotel.

In a phone interview, Mr. Chesky said: “Most people only ever open our app once or twice a year, and we’ve got to battle to make sure they think of us every single year. So this keeps us top of mind and culturally relevant.”

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Items from some of the featured listings, including the house in Minneapolis where Prince’s character lived in the film “Purple Rain,” were displayed in Los Angeles on Wednesday.Credit…J. Emilio Flores for The New York Times

Airbnb hopes the project will help with international markets as well. One of the listings announced Wednesday is a weeklong stay aboard a tour bus with Feid, a Colombian reggaeton artist popular in Latin America. Another includes an overnight stay in India hosted by the Bollywood star Janhvi Kapoor.

Though Mr. Chesky expects Icons listings to draw thousands of guests, that figure represents a minuscule share of Airbnb’s 150 million users. Still, he said, the category represents the future of Airbnb.

“So this in of itself is not a stand-alone business, but it’s more than just any marketing promotion,” he said. “It’s a gateway to Airbnb becoming more than a place to stay.”

William Murphy

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