Airbnb Experiences, A Host Point of View.
I signed up to partner my studio, San Francisco Pole & Dance, with Airbnb Experiences back in August 2017. I had just gotten back from France, where I went on an Airbnb Experience taking a drawing class with a French artist named Romain. It was essentially a walking and sketching tour of Montmartre and so much fun. I met people from around the world while learning more about the local art scene all through the perspective of a real life French artist. Though we will not be the next Van Goghs, my husband and I left feeling like we’d had a truly local, authentic, and immersive experience.
When I came back home to San Francisco, I wanted to recreate that experience at my pole studio, San Francisco Pole and Dance. I signed up on Airbnb, through Airbnb’s experience host application, where the Airbnb site guides you through designing an experience that includes three essential elements; credibility, perspective, and access. These requirements are set forth in order to ensure that the experiences hosted on the Airbnb platform are unique, and that the experiences provide a point of view that guests wouldn’t be able to get purchasing somewhere else. It also made for a fun challenge — how can I make my business even more personable and individualized?
Since my business is in San Francisco, California, I wanted to bring some of the zaniness of San Francisco culture to the experience. I decided to go with aerial instead of pole for the activity piece of the class because I wanted something that I could market to people from many different types of cultures easily and comfortably — something that people from even conservative cultures could do without feeling worried about what their friends would think of them if they posted pictures, and to market the experience as something family friendly (while I do pole with my family, I realize that most people don’t).
Since aerial silks classes and aerial lyra classes by themselves are something that people can purchase directly from my studio, I bundled a mixed aerial class of lyra and silks together with a stop at a local mom and pop coffee shop, Wicked Grounds, (a community of BDSM and kink related activities, workshops and also a coffee shop), giving guests a taste of some of the zaniness and out of the box culture that San Francisco is known for.
Unique, different, and localized experience - check!
Airbnb approved my experience in October, about two months after I applied in August. From there, they set me up with an account manager who walked me through some of the common pitfalls of hosting (emphasizing the importance of communicating with guests through the whole process from the moment they sign up for the experience and using their chat messenger tool to talk to specific guests). They also set me up with an online host dashboard where I could view my experience, make edits and changes to the experience, and calendar the dates and times that I wanted to host. The account manager left me confident that the hosting tool gave me the control I needed to create my own schedule for hosting and to be able to talk directly to customers.
I calendared about one month in advance to host my first Aerial Arts Taster Class and Coffee experience for a Friday at 2–4pm. My first experience only had 3 attendees, partly because I hadn’t gotten any reviews on the site yet, and partly, because I’ve learned that a month in advance wasn’t enough notice for a lot of visitors. Many people book their Airbnbs and travel accommodations 3–6 months in advance and the experiences are recommended at the time of booking. Because I want to make sure that my experience gets in front of as many people’s eyes as possible, I now calendar my experiences about three months out and about half of the attendees seem to sign up that far in advance as well. It’s early February now and my most booked experience this past week is slated for the end of April.
That first Friday, I hosted three women visiting from the midwest, including one who was celebrating her 50th birthday! Each was able to complete a foot lock on silks, hang from one knee in a low hanging lyra and try an inversion on hammock.
One thing that I think I did well was making sure to take time with the experience — stopping to take pictures, helping each person get the perfect pose and stopping to roll out the wrists more than I would have in a normal class. I checked in often with the attendees, ‘How are you feeling?’ We ended with about half an hour to spare before walking over to get a coffee at Wicked Grounds. While we chatted, they told me about their lives and I told them about mine. They asked for restaurant recommendations and I told them about the different areas of the city — the kind of local guidance I want and seek out when I’m visiting new cities. I also shamelessly asked them to leave me reviews because I knew that it would help my experience show up closer to the top of the Airbnb Experiences page because the more reviews an experience has, the more visibility it seems to get.
By the time my second group came around, the class was fully booked! I’ve hosted 8 experiences now, and each one has been incredibly fun. I’ve gotten to meet people from around the world and most have included people from multiple continents and many different countries.
Airbnb has also been lovely to partner with. Their cut of my experience offering is 20%. For every $50 ticket I sell, they pay me $40. In exchange, I get incredibly valuable marketing and relevant traffic viewing of my experience for people who are visiting from out of town, a demographic that Facebook advertising generally doesn’t cover.
Airbnb is also very generous with their publicity and has paid for a video crew to come video my experience (the video is in editing now) and hosted a journalism teams who came to report on my Airbnb experience for the host blog (viewed by over 6mm Airbnb hosts) internally. Out of all of the software partners that I work with, Airbnb is by far the one who feels like we’re working towards a mutual win-win arrangement of growing the proverbial pie versus partnering with software partners who want a cut of the pie already baked.
That said, there are some very specific learnings that I’ve had from hosting people who are not from the San Francisco Bay Area in the Experiences event setting. Here are some of the tricks I’ve developed for working within the Airbnb Experiences structure.
- Start with the most social aspect of the experience
When I first posted my experience, I started with the aerial event and then left the coffee for last. In retrospect this was a mistake. I normally host my events during the downtime at the studio, between 2–5pm. By the time 5pm rolls around, it’s too late for coffee for many. So I reversed it — starting with the coffee instead.
This allows late people extra time to arrive (on average, at least 3 of the 10 attendees show up late), and gives everyone a chance to know each other, building a bit of the social lubricant needed to get people feeling confident about doing something they’ve never done before in front of a group of strangers. The added dose of caffeine also makes them a bit hyphe, which is a fun transformation to watch too. Similarly to the way I open all the classes that I teach at San Francisco Pole & Dance, I have everyone to go around a circle and say their name, where they are from, and one fun fact about themselves.
2. Make sure the address for the event is clear.
Unfortunately, San Francisco Pole & Dance is somewhat confusing of a location to arrive at. There is a callbox downstairs and many people in many places don’t use callboxes. Students are also required to take an elevator upstairs and then walk down a long hall to arrive at the space. If you miss the signs with San Francisco Pole and Dance’s logo and directions, it can take extra time to find our location. We’ve had students arrive more than 20 minutes late for this reason alone. This is another reason that I start with the coffee — providing a location that is easy for an Uber to drop off at, preferably at a location that is street level with easily visible, marked signage.
3. Revel in the Moment.
Airbnb guests are often on vacation so they’re pace tends to be a little slower than an average student’s in a normal drop in class. Perhaps because they don’t have to go to work afterwards, they tend to want more time to capture the experience that they are having. After all, it’s part of their vacation. This is great for me as an instructor because taking pictures takes time and allows everyone a bit of breathing time between trying tricks and gives their hands and bodies some time to recuperate between all things they are doing that requires grip strength that they haven’t built up before. I generally have students take pictures so that I can spot my while the ones being photographed are in the air. This also provides another touch point for students to get to know each other.
4. Remember you can say ‘No’.
I once had a couple sign up for the Aerial Arts Taster and Coffee experience and then show up at the very end of the class. “I’m so sorry you missed it!” I told them, offering water and a seat on the couch so that they could figure out their plans for what to do next.
“Do you mind just teaching us the class again?” the husband asked me. I was so shocked (and tired after clocking 6 hours of teaching that day) that I said yes. I know I should’ve said no, but I didn’t and I wish that I had set my boundaries better. I’ve found that Airbnb is very good at diplomatically making every one feel good when there are mix ups like this. When they have happened, Airbnb communicates privately with all parties to find a mutually agreeable solution.
After that first time, I’ve been much braver about telling guests ‘No’. Many people looking at the event will private message me, asking if I can add a time slot just for them (which amounts to about $90 in revenue for a 2 hour class) and I’ve learned to politely decline these requests. That said, if they are booking for a group of 10, then the potential revenue is closer to $500 for the two hours — and that is worth it to me and I will make exceptions for those customized group session requests. Setting my boundaries around special requests allows me to communicate clearly and directly to private requests for special accommodations that honor those boundaries.
During our introductory coffee portion of the class, I make sure to introduce myself to attendees, giving them a brief bio of why I started my studio, why I think it’s important (and changing a nook of the world) and some of the background about my expertise. I also remind them that I am a small business owner and that promotion is helpful to my business. When I take pictures, I try to get our logo in the background. When students leave, I make sure that every body takes a business card with the @sfpoleanddance Instagram handle and Facebook name so that they can check in and help drive traffic by posting about our event on social media. Surprisingly, about 20% of attendees are local to the Bay Area — having just a couple of those attendees post our studio on their personal Instagrams is helpful to driving word of mouth awareness of our brand and space.
So far, I love hosting Airbnb experiences. The small things are tricky, usually logistic, and easily solvable. From my POV, I get to share a fully customized, out of the box experience with people I wouldn’t have otherwise gotten to meet. The experiences are almost always held at time slots when I wouldn’t otherwise be hosting classes, increasing overall utilization of the space. I look forward to hosting many more!