Skift Take

Can Airbnb succeed in making packaged tours or peer-to-peer travel experiences cool? That's the big question when it comes to its latest investment, which is set to debut at its upcoming Airbnb Open in November. We have a feeling Airbnb just might be able to.

In the lead up to its annual hosting conference in November, Airbnb has expanded its new, “still under wraps,” City Hosts program for offering local tours, activities, and experiences.

What first debuted in June with just 36 experiences in San Francisco, London, Los Angeles, Paris, and Tokyo has now expanded to 384 experiences in 12 cities around the world that now also include Cape Town, Detroit, Florence, Havana, Miami, Nairobi, Seoul, and Tokyo.

A quick sampling of the experiences includes: a 7-hour Wynwood Tour and Party in Miami for $300 per person; a day spent with life coaches with a welcome brunch, walk and mediation, and an early morning rave for $346 per person in London; a three-hour retail tour of Tokyo’s Akihabara District in search of the coolest anime collectibles and toys with an online retailer for $34 per person; and learning how to make your own ramen with a second-generation ramen maker in Tokyo. [See screenshots below for examples.]

Experiences seem to range from all-day affairs to smaller excursions at a variety of prices, with most of the longer experiences in the $200 range. Each of the experiences is orchestrated by a local City Host who serves, essentially, as a guest’s tour guide.

For now, the City Hosts experiences are only available to those with private beta access, and to be able to book any of the experiences, an Airbnb property booking is required. For those without access to City Hosts in beta, you can sign up to be added to the waitlist here.

Adding yourself onto the waitlist, you’ll see promotional images taken from this video, which was posted on in May. It chronicles the adventures of an Airbnb guest who travels to Los Angeles and benefits from City Hosts by gaining access to parts of Los Angeles not often experienced by visitors, from a morning surf session to a Parisian cooking class and a visit to the oldest puppet theater in the U.S.

Airbnb's new City Hosts program aims to recreate the tours and activities product for the Airbnb consumer.

Airbnb’s new City Hosts program aims to recreate the tours and activities product for the Airbnb consumer. Pictured is a duo that offers tours in London.

Judging from what we’ve been able to gather from beta access to City Hosts and the promotional video, it seems like Airbnb users who book an experience have access to both a City Host, who sort of acts like your own guide/concierge and offers a number of different “immersive” experiences, as well as other City Hosts who might just host a special “single” excursion or experience for you, like a ramen cooking class or a walking tour.

Skift reached out to Airbnb to ask the company about an expected timeline for the formal debut of City Hosts but did not receive a comment.

Magical Trips Are Finally Becoming a Reality

City Hosts, it would appear, seems to be just one facet of Airbnb’s larger investment in what it has called internally, “Magical Trips.”

Throughout the past year, rumors about Magical Trips have swirled, and Airbnb will formally debut the project at this year’s Airbnb Open, a conference for hosts, in November.

A collection of Airbnb's new City Hosts tours in Havana, Cuba.

A collection of Airbnb’s new City Hosts tours in Havana, Cuba.

City Hosts and Magical Trips seem to build upon the foundation already laid out by Airbnb’s latest global campaign, Live There, which debuted in April.

The Live There campaign not only included new marketing and advertisements but also a number of enhancements to Airbnb’s app and the addition of Guidebooks on its platform that emphasize both personalization and experiences. Within the app, Airbnb included a new “matching system” that takes travelers’ preferences into account to match them with homes, neighborhoods, and experiences that meet their needs. The Guidebooks feature insider tips from Airbnb hosts about their favorite things to see/do/eat in their cities.

Testing of experiences has also been taking place for some time now, too. An example is this excursion to “Go Out for Drinks with a Parisian” for $34 per person, for example.

And if there were any doubt that Airbnb is invested heavily in expanding into the tours/experiences marketplace, look no further than their recent acquisition of Spanish tours and activities startup Trip4Real.

Speaking on stage at the Skift Global Forum in New York City last week, Airbnb head of global hospitality and strategy, Chip Conley, hinted the company will reveal more of its work in helping “people make more connections” at the Airbnb Open.

Some other topics Conley brought up that seem to be connected to Magical Trips included his discussion of the use of data science. He said, “If you have a lot of data scientists, you’re both able to find the right customer for you. This is a huge differentiator in the long term: personalization and customization.”

Judging from what Airbnb has already done in terms of “matching” guests, hosts, and neighborhoods, it will most likely apply that to its new trips product, too.

The debut of City Hosts and Magical Trips also addresses a disadvantage of staying in an Airbnb: namely, a sense of detachment or isolation for guests if there is no host, or a host isn’t particularly involved in helping shape his or her guest’s experience. This was something also mentioned by The Standard Hotels managing partner Amar Lalvani and Bunkhouse Group founder Liz Lambert at the Skift Global Forum.

Lalvani said, “Liz and I have been successfully building community around our hotels and bringing people together into our public spaces. That is what our brands are all about, and while we’re both big fans of what Airbnb is doing, that’s something that Airbnb can never do. So we think we’re incredibly well-positioned as the sharing economy grows.”

The current landing page for Airbnb's City Hosts selection of activities in 12 cities.

The current landing page for Airbnb’s City Hosts selection of activities in 12 cities.

With the full-blown launch of City Hosts and Magical Trips, however, it looks like Airbnb is further strengthening and building its community of hosts and guests. It’s proof that although Airbnb itself doesn’t own any physical, public spaces, it can still try to build a sense of community with its hosts and guests through shared experiences.

In an interview with Bloomberg Television earlier this year, Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky said, “Our basic idea is: I want you to go to a city; you feel like you live there. When people go to a place, they want much more than just a home. They want to be part of a neighborhood. And what we are really focused on doing is, how can we immerse you into a neighborhood?”

Airbnb is stepping into a sector of travel that, for now, has been been slow to adapt to digital booking habits and is instead dominated by more traditional packaged tours and excursions, the kinds of experiences that tourists generally do, and not the kinds of experiences that locals have.

It will attempt to disrupt still small peer-to-peer tour platforms and larger travel startups offering more “local” experiences, like Viator, GetYourGuide, or Peak Travel Group.

Given the company’s track record for disruption and growth — it’s now valued more than Hilton and Hyatt combined at $30 billion — it is well poised for success, but we’ll have to wait until November to see what develops in the meantime.

Details for a tour of Miami's Wynwood neighborhood.

Details for a tour of Miami’s Wynwood neighborhood.



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Tags: airbnb

Photo credit: A screenshot showing the different City Hosts experiences you can have in Tokyo through Airbnb. The company is expanding its program in the beta testing phase in the lead up to its Airbnb Open conference in Los Angeles next month. Airbnb

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