In Q4 2016, Airbnb took a giant leap into new tourism territory by announcing Experiences, a new platform that turns locals into tourism operators. It’s all part of the company’s Trips product, which expands Airbnb beyond guest accommodations and home sharing into the role of a full-service travel agent. Experiences have begun in twelve cities and have continued to expand into places like Bangkok, New Delhi, and Toronto.
The change is all part of Airbnb’s “live like a local” mantra. Hosts are meant to provide unique experiences that are distinct from the normal tourist itinerary. Guests can prepare sushi in Tokyo, hunt truffles in Florence, or find a cultural tour of nightlife in Havana, for starters. The possibilities seem limitless for budding hosts who want to share their passion.
How will Experiences impact tourism destinations and places?
Airbnb will enable a new wave of tourism entrepreneurs to offer a slice of local life. But how will Trips and Experiences benefit residents and the local tourism industry? Some established operators may feel threatened by the new platform, but innovative destination marketers will find ways to seize the day, says Think!’s Chief Strategist, William Bakker.
“I think experiences will be a lot less contentious than accommodation has been for some destinations. Airbnb is a platform that provides a huge opportunity for DMOs. The accommodations provide more inventory that is distributed across a place. It also connects with the modern consumer’s desire to become a temporary local. Airbnb Experiences offer the same thing. They connect locals and visitors through participation in their passions. It’s a win-win-win scenario.”
There is no going back.
As leading destination marketers consider Airbnb’s impact on their destinations, they see that their future plans must involve the sharing economy.
“It’s hard to put the genie back in the bottle,” says Bakker. “DMOs will need to work with Airbnb to find the right balance that helps tourism improve the destination for all.”
Of course, this balance varies from place to place. In tech-driven San Jose, Airbnb’s presence is encouraged as an accommodation for a different type of traveller than the one that might stay in a downtown hotel. Experiences might also fit into the tourism economy in the same way, by catering to a new market.
In some destinations, cities and their residents are arguing for stronger regulations on Airbnb listings as the service has contributed to rising rents and crowding. In response, Airbnb has begun asking its accommodation hosts to collect occupancy taxes for local DMOs. This kind of cooperation may be a path to the mutually beneficial scenarios we all hope for.
Related reading: How should destinations respond to Airbnb and the sharing economy?