In just a decade since its founding, Airbnb has established itself as a leader in hospitality, specifically in providing lodging options to millions of travelers around the globe. Traditionally, the company has acted as a broker for local hosts who offer short-term rental space in private homes or other accommodations. They have recently raised their aim beyond merely providing lodging to promising to “make travel magical again by immersing travelers in local communities.”
Airbnb has rolled out a new service to further enhance travelers’ stays through their “Experiences” program. One thing that Airbnb heard from their guests was that when they travel, they are really seeking out local adventures, not necessarily the same bus-based tours of a city or Chamber of Commerce walking maps of downtown. The company realized that they already had a network of hosts who were passionate about showing off their hometowns, beyond just trying to make a little extra money by renting out a spare bedroom and an air mattress. Why not let these hosts enhance their revenue by serving as ambassadors for their destinations and offering unique experiences for visiting guests?
So the Experiences program was born. Experience hosts don’t have to offer lodging to be part of the program, but they do undergo the same sort of extensive vetting by Airbnb that home hosts do before they can officially offer Experiences. Airbnb looks for hosts who are both knowledgeable and passionate about the subject of the Experience they offer, be it a bicycle and Instagram tour of a neighborhood, a cooking class featuring local seasonal ingredients or the chance to write a country music song with a Nashville hitmaker. Thanks to these qualified hosts/guides, Airbnb Experiences offer access and perspective that aren’t normally available on typical tours.
Kelly Stewart is a prototypical Airbnb host working out of Nashville. His particular experience is called “Hike to a Peaceful Oasis in Nashville,” a walking tour around Music City’s beloved Radnor Lake. Nashvillians are familiar with the bucolic suburban locale as a popular destination for hiking and wildlife-watching, but if you are a visitor staying downtown, it would probably never occur to you to make the trip to the ‘burbs to discover this natural beauty. Kelly has led hikes for more than a decade as the head of the Nashville Hiking Meetup club. “I realized I’d been doing this for 11 years and not making a dime,” explains Kelly with a chuckle. “When I first heard about Airbnb Experiences, I saw a chance to make a buck doing something I love — sharing the outdoors.”
Beyond the small financial gains he receives for leading the tours at $28/person, Kelly was surprised by the unanticipated benefits. “The main one is seeing the difference between tourists and local hikers. If you live in Nashville, you have different expectations of a trip to Radnor, usually exercise or fellowship with other hikers. Visitors want to know all about the history of the area, the flora and the fauna; their questions are a lot more varied. I had one guest tell me that of course he could do the hike without a guide, but I helped him see and learn things he never would have on his own. Plus I love that their questions make me do the research and learn the answers myself. It’s deepened my own understanding of what I’ve experienced before over and over.”
Dana McMahan is a food and travel writer based out of Louisville, KY, who makes a little money on the side hosting Airbnb guests in “Vertigo,” a third floor flat up a steep staircase attached to Dana and her husband’s 1890 Victorian home in Old Louisville. As a freelance travel writer, Dana is well aware of the importance of hospitality. “I have high expectations and expect high levels of hospitality when I travel, so I work hard to provide those to our guests.” After a year of glowing reviews from her guests at Vertigo, McMahan decided to add a new title to her resume: Experience host.
“My husband and I have been going to Paris for almost two decades, and I was looking for something new to do on our next trip. I saw an Experience where you could join a dog walker on a stroll around the neighborhood, and I thought it would be fun to apply to do that here with Cash.” Vertigo is a dog-friendly accommodation, and guests frequently bring their dogs along. “We already attract dog-loving guests, and we think dog people are the best people. Folks who stay here love playing with Cash, so we included him in the tour.”
Cash is Dana’s pooch, Cassius Thunderpaws, the real star of the walking tour Experience that she offers for $20. “Walking in Louisville is the best way to see the awesome Victorian architecture in the neighborhood you might not notice from a car.” She starts the tour at Central Park, a 17-acre park in Old Louisville that was originally the country estate of the DuPont Family. “There are incredible Victorian mansions all around the park, really jaw-droppingly gorgeous houses with old gas lamps and secret gardens. It would be easy to take for granted because we live here, but we love to share our neighborhood.”
After a stroll around the park and through a secret walkway named Floral Terrace, Dana brings her guests to her favorite donut and coffee shop, North Lime, located in a refurbished 19th century industrial building that had been long-abandoned. “People love North Lime, and we buy all our Vertigo guests their first breakfast there when they stay with us.” She also springs for a donut for each guest on her walking tour, not a bad deal for 20 bucks, considering that it includes a history lesson, some exercise and the chance for unlimited play with a delightful dog.
So far, Dana has loved leading the tours. “I’m walking the dog every day anyway, so why not meet some travelers? I work from home, so I sometimes miss being around people. This way I have the chance to get out and give Cash something to do.”
Whether you’re traveling for leisure or have a free afternoon during a business trip, the opportunity to experience a new destination with a passionate local guide can really deepen your enjoyment of a visit. Airbnb Experiences offer activities from adventurous to relaxing that can be really affordable ways to discover a new city like a native.
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