Airbnb Experiences: A Shift in What it Means to Travel

In the past 6 months, I’ve…

  • Tasted exclusive mezcals in a hidden private cellar,
  • Learned about how to make limoncello from a proud third generation producer,
  • Made traditional Spanish paella from two sisters,
  • Walked away from a leather workshop with a hand-crafted iPad case,
  • and rafted down rapids in Croatia.

All of these adventures were made possible by Airbnb Experiences (and no, this post isn’t sponsored).

I am not only a raving fan and highly recommend that others check out the platform when they are traveling. But I also believe that Airbnb Experiences are an example of how the tourism industry is fundamentally changing. Let me tell you why.

Why are Airbnb Experiences so cool?

First, if you don’t know what I’m talking about, go search for Airbnb Experiences in a major city of your choosing (I recommend Budapest!).

After talking with the hosts of my Experiences, I learned that Airbnb Experiences do two things: level the playing field for tourism by removing gatekeepers like tourism agencies; and provide direct access and opportunity for individuals who haven’t ever considered getting into the tourism industry.

Traditionally, if someone lived in a tourism-heavy town and wanted to get involved or start a business, they had to go through layers of bureaucracy to get on the tourist agency’s recommendation lists and usually pay a significant revenue share for each referred client. These barriers led many aspiring business owners to settle for joining a larger tourism firm instead. The guide of our rafting trip in Croatia explained that he was currently transitioning his business from relying on agency bookings to Airbnb because he both had more control over the offerings when he was on his own through Airbnb, and received a larger share of the revenue.

The barriers of starting an independent tourism offering further discouraged existing business owners to consider offering a tourism component, which could bring in additional revenue for the business. We saw this in the limoncello workshop we did in Amalfi coast. The owner running the workshop clearly had a passion for sharing his craft with travelers from all over the world. However, before he had learned about Airbnb Experiences, he had never considered offering workshops because of the overhead it would require to maintain relationships with the local tourism agencies.

Even cooler, some Airbnb Experience hosts use the platform as a way to further their personal missions. For example, the limoncello workshop host shared that his larger goal in hosting workshops was to try to increase appreciation for the craft and spread awareness for fake limoncello. Our leather workshop host in Budapest shared that she left design school incredibly passionate about sustainable fashion but found that none of the big leather designers shared the same values. Instead of selling out, she decided to create her own studio and workshop space with her sister. She uses each multiple-hour workshop to try to demonstrate the effort it takes to make things we buy in an effort to produce more thoughtful and sustainability focused consumers.

Travel experiences like that are priceless. You are given the opportunity to learn about a person’s passion, experience the culture, and have an encounter that very few others will ever have. And I think the reason that this style of travel is starting to flourish is because of a shift in what people value in travel and tourism.

What’s this shift I’m talking about?

Tourism, as an industry, has thrived over the past decade with the explosion of ratings and reviews. Sites like TripAdvisor have become a tourist haven for what to do when traveling. I mean, where else where else can I read someone’s rant about over paying for a tourist trap eatery by the Colosseum?

But I do think that we are starting to see a shift, particularly as millennials start to travel more and more. Millennials, and younger travelers, are different than previous generations. We prefer to experience something “off the beaten path” when traveling; something unique and “Instagram-worthy”. We see this trend ring true with the explosion of popularity of travel bloggers and vloggers who pride themselves on delivering travel recommendations and inspirations that you won’t get on the big sites like TripAdvisor. Goodbye to Rick Steve’s and hello to Cameron Phillips.

How does this all come together? What might happen going forward?

I think unique travel experiences will continue to become preferable to the highly proven “beaten path”. I believe that Airbnb’s new push on the Experiences side of their platform is perfectly positioned to benefit from this shift.

So next time you’re traveling, check to see if there’s any interesting Airbnb Experiences in the area. Heck, even check if there’s any cool Experiences in your hometown!

I, for one, am incredibly curious to see how tourism experiences evolve these next few years. I’m curious to hear your thoughts in the comments!