In a recent bidding war for an artificial intelligence startup, Facebook had an unexpected competitor: Airbnb. Earlier this summer the travel company offered to buy Ozlo, which built systems to understand people’s preferences for restaurants based on conversations, according to two people briefed on the matter. Airbnb eventually lost to Facebook, which bought Ozlo for a sum that couldn’t be learned.
As Airbnb expands into a broader range of services, like tours, activities, restaurant bookings and concierge services, it has begun looking for startups that can help it improve its machine-learning capabilities, three people briefed by the company said. Airbnb is looking to make better use of insights that could be found in customer reviews, messages with hosts and self-descriptions, to allow for improved personalization of activities it suggests to guests.