Overall, the reviews are positive, but some have found the app to be glitchy at times. The bigger question on our minds: Can this prove to be a moneymaker for both hosts and for Airbnb in the long term?
It’s been about six months since Airbnb launched Trips, its formal foray into the tours and activities space. While many industry watchers have pondered whether this was a smart financial move on Airbnb’s part, the product itself is still in its early stages, even as Airbnb continues to add more and more Trips in cities around the world.
Originally starting with just 12 cities, Airbnb plans to have Trips available in 51 cities globally by year’s end. Trips is the catchall term the company uses to describe the tours and activities it offers: Experiences refer to shorter activities that are only for one day, while Immersions refer to longer, multi-day tours.
Most recently, the company added Trips to cities that include Shanghai, New York City (Harlem for now), and Singapore. And there are also Trips now that offer more intimate music and concert experiences as well.
To date, there are now more than 800 Experiences to book, an increase of 60 percent since November. Airbnb also said the typical price per person, across all Experience types, has been $91, and that 91 percent of Experience bookings have been rated with five stars.
During a recent talk at the New York Stock Exchange, CEO Brian Chesky said he believes Airbnb’s core product, Homes, will account for less than half of the company’s total revenue someday. He also said that by 2021, the majority of what Airbnb offers as a business “will be the new things that we are doing as of 2017 on.”
While there isn’t enough data available now to know, with certainty, if Airbnb Trips has been a significantly accretive addition to Airbnb’s portfolio, early signs seem fairly positive. A recent report issued by Raymond James research analysts concluded the following:
“Beyond social benefits from hyper-personalized, more intimate experiences (e.g., memories, new friends), Trips simultaneously generates brand value (both through word of mouth and repeat usage) and opens up additional monetization paths, thus benefiting long-term margins and free cash flow. In our latest analysis of Experiences, we observe that: 1) supply has increased ~38% since its debut, 2) the growth has been driven by Single Experiences, and 3) this growth in supply and shift in mix drove an average price decline of ~36% in a cohort of six markets (~49% of listings). Net, Airbnb’s seen a promising start in one area (supply) and success going forward will be measured by conversion (which, as expected, appears to be very nascent).”
However, some, like Olan O’Sullivan, vice president of marketing for TrekkSoft, a Swiss-based company that helps tour operators and activity providers with online bookings and management software, remain somewhat skeptical.
“This industry is a very tough nut to crack,” he said. “It’s important to know that 30 percent of tour and activity companies earn less than $50,000 in revenue on a global basis. That’s where this part of the industry is.”
So what do actual Airbnb Trips hosts, most of whom are not professional tour guides, think of this product so far? And what do their insights have to reveal about the relative health of this new venture?
Skift interviewed seven different hosts based in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Tokyo for their thoughts. Most declined to say whether hosting Trips was financially significant for them, primarily because the business is still fairly new. Here’s what they had to say:
Why They Became Airbnb Trips Hosts
Each of the hosts Skift interviewed were approached by Airbnb and asked to participate in Trips. Some started during the beta phase of Trips, called City Hosts, while others joined shortly after the official launch in November 2016.
All hosts said that while the additional income or proceeds for their nonprofits were great to have, the ability to share their passions with others was the main reason why they agreed to become Trips hosts. Some hosts interviewed here offer social impact experiences, while others do not. (Airbnb takes a 20 percent commission for booked Trips that are not classified as “social impact experiences.”)
“The standard world of hospitality is you have a hotel and a concierge desk,” said Sarah Dandashy, a hotel concierge who’s crafted a social media following with her popular Youtube series and website, Ask a Concierge, where she delivers L.A.-based advice for locals and visitors alike. Her Airbnb Trips tour, “Speed Dial,” is a two-day food and drink immersion that costs $139 per person. “I wanted to break that and go beyond that. When I was approached by Airbnb in regard to this it just seemed like such a perfect fit because I have such a strong background in hospitality.”
Dandashy, who works as a luxury hotel concierge in Los Angeles, said that she views Airbnb as being instrumental in “increasing the travel pie, so to speak” and she hopes that, through her work with Airbnb Trips, she’s opening up hoteliers’ eyes about the possibilities of adding more value and experiences to the traditional hotel stay.
“It’s also interesting to see how hotels are hopping on the bandwagon and thinking about how to add experiences or adding value to the regular hotel experience, which I think is great,” she said. “It’s so beneficial because it’s pushing people outside of their comfort zone and getting them to think outside the box.”
Tokyo-based Christopher Pellegrini, a certified shochu sommelier, said Airbnb Trips is allowing him to expand something he was already doing, but to be able to reach an even wider audience through its platform with his Sake vs. Shochu two-hour experience and a longer three-day Immersion.
“I’ve been doing tons of shochu and awamori [two types of Japanese liquors] tastings and seminars and all manner of events that are aimed at bringing these drinks to a wider audience, meaning non-Japanese consumers. For a long time, I was doing stuff that was just out of pocket and half out of pocket, and then I got to this place where I was invited to do a lot of speaking, but these events were always 60-percent Japanese folks and the rest are expats who already knew shochu and knew a lot about it. I wasn’t reaching the audience I wanted to reach unless I left the country. Then Airbnb came along.”
He added, “You can do the same thing with smaller groups or bigger groups if you like, and we can basically guarantee that the folks on these experiences will be real flesh-and-blood tourists, not people who have lived in Tokyo for 12 years. That really appealed to me. It’s not easy to manufacture on your own. You have to be camped out in front of the hotels in Asakusa or waiting in the lobby of one of them to catch people as they go out and tell them about this event, about food and drink culture. That takes lot time and energy that I don’t really have. Airbnb easily plugged me into that consumer base. I am reaching my main goal which is to put the word shochu in people’s brains, so I’m grateful to Airbnb for making that easier.”
Lauren Segal, founder of the Laguna Beach, California-based nonprofit Give a Beat, has two social impact experiences through Airbnb Trips: one in L.A. and another in San Francisco. All proceeds from the booked Trips goes directly to her nonprofit, which uses electronic dance music culture to effect social change among youth and families impacted by incarceration.
“I’m honored to be a part of this,” Segal said. “One of the other things that we value about being a part of this is we can incorporate so many different components of our organization, all pulled together in this one experience so they can help us grow our organization. Aside from just bringing real people on our Trips and spreading awareness, showing people we have this relationship with Airbnb is just great validation for the organization.”
Similarly, in San Francisco, Baia Pasta owner Dario Barbone leads a six-hour social impact experience, “Perfect Pasta” where he teaches people how to make pasta after a tour of the city’s Ferry Building and farmer’s market. All proceeds from his Trip go to nonprofit 18 Reasons, which helps feed low-income families in San Francisco’s Mission District.
“[I wanted to do this to have the] opportunity to share my passion, and spend a beautiful day with curious and engaged people,” said Barbone. “I have not lost one inch of energy after four months [as of February 2017]. On the contrary, I get more energized after every experience.”
The App Has Its Issues
While all the hosts had mostly positive reviews for their respective Airbnb Trips experiences, one thing quite a few noted as a challenge had to do with the Airbnb app itself. Namely, that it could be glitchy and difficult to use at times.
“I would say the biggest challenge is the app,” said Pellegrini. “The app has, from the get go, been a work in progress on the experience host side. There are a lot of small things that need to be improved. I know they are working on them.”
Some problems he cited included not getting notifications when he receives a message, both on his end and for guests; not having all his available dates show up; and not being able to add photos to messages to help travelers easily know where to meet. Another problem he noted was that if a group of travelers books an Airbnb Trip, but not every single person in that party verifies his or her account, the entire group’s booking is cancelled.
Pellegrini said he’s heard that the iOs version of the app is less problematic than the Android version, and while he understands that Airbnb’s engineering teams are constantly working on updating the app, those occasional glitches can be frustrating, and problematic both for him as a host and for his guests.
“The app is still very much a work in progress,” Pellegrini said. “I just make a habit of checking it every day to make sure I haven’t missed something. There are just little features they are rolling out bit by bit. It just requires a little extra attention form the user’s side.”
Barbone also said he wished the verification process for Trips were more “intuitive.”
Robin Petgrave, a certified pilot and founder of nonprofit Tomorrow’s Aeronautical Museum, whose Airbnb Trip, “LA From Above,” involves a helicopter tour of Los Angeles, said he wishes the software would let you offer experiences for various different time slots per day.
Segal said that while it’s nice to have everything contained in the app, having to type everything out on her phone, versus a laptop or desktop, can sometimes be a challenge. Pellegrini echoed her sentiments, saying, “I don’t like pushing out messages on my phone.”
Airbnb Is Working with Trips Hosts in a Hands-On Way
Unlike Airbnb’s approach to its core Homes product, the company is taking a much more curated, quality-controlled strategy for Trips, often sending multiple Airbnb employees to test out the Trips, and having teams work closely with Trips hosts to put together their itineraries.
Petgrave said that when he first started hosting Trips, many of his first guests were Airbnb employees.
“They had people that they sent out to basically do the tour, like staff people, and test it out and give you critiques and reviews to help you find ways to improve your product,” he said.
Segal said she continues to work closely with the Airbnb Trips team to get the perfect fit for her two Trips as well. “We’re trying different things out to try to make the experience even more fulfilling and streamlined. We’re getting bookings here and there, but we’re still finding out how to design the experience.” She said she is working with Airbnb to shorten her Trip from a two-day Immersion into a one-day Experience instead.
“One of the things they found out is it’s tough for people to commit to a two-day immersive experience. So now we’re coming out with a new one-day experience,” Segal said. “If we were having this call two months from now, I’d probably have more bookings. We’re still making changes and refining experiences for both the L.A. and SF Trips.”
Dandashy said she approached Airbnb with her initial Trip ideas and working together with them, came up with her Trip which involves a “foodie experience” and an “Instagram wall crawl.” She said, “It was a nice evolution and collaboration to figure out what are my personal strengths, and how to highlight them in a way that people will enjoy themselves.”
Pellegrini said he had a similar experience working with Airbnb on his Trips. “They said, ‘Tell us your story,” he said. After sharing how he’d worked in a small brewery in Vermont, and then traveled to Spain, South Korea, and Japan, where he discovered shochu, the local Airbnb team suggested a tour that began with a focus on beer for the first day, followed by a “sake versus shochu” experience on the second day, and a third day of just shochu. “The folks in San Francisco also liked the idea of the second-day experience being its own trip too, so that became another Trip,” he added.
“I didn’t know what Airbnb was at the time,” Sayegh recalled. “I said, ‘Sure, why not,’ then they said, ‘You have to answer all the questions and do this. I said I was busy. Two weeks later, my Trip is all planned out and everything. I told them what I wanted to do and gave them the hours I’d be available and things like that. They put together the graphics and everything and the whole layout.” Sayegh’s Airbnb Trip, “Hunter Gatherer,” is a three-day immersion that involves hiking and foraging for garnishes, deep sea fishing for supper, and a rooftop dinner.
San Francisco-based artist and former art professor Toby Klayman, who has been an Airbnb host for the past six years along with her husband, had been working with Airbnb on its Trips product very early on in its development. Originally, her Trip was called “Art Attack,” she said. But Airbnb eventually called her to ask if they could change the name to “Renaissance Lady” and eventually to “Madame Renaissance.”
“They’ve got a battery of people around who have tested everything,” Klayman said. A case in point, she noted, was that her Trip used to be more expensive than it is now, so her Airbnb team leader came over and worked with her to streamline the costs of hosting her Trip, to try to lower the cost.
“He came over and said, one way to help with the finances would be if we scanned all of your handouts and you send it to the guests in a PDF instead of running them off,” she said. “I asked him if Airbnb would scan some of the chapters of my book to also give good value to my experience and he was happy to scan seven chapters of my book for me. I was willing to lower the price of my experience to make it very affordable and competitive.”
Anyone Can Apply to Be a Trips Host, BUt It’s a Process
Klayman said she has a friend who’s currently applying to be a host of an Airbnb Trip as well, and she said, “They will tear her experience apart for her and figure out what they can do to help her to make it a success.”
She said her friend who has applied was responded to within two weeks of submitting her application. That friend was asked to “design a Trip lasting 3.5 hours, and she was to decide on a price per participant herself, but Airbnb would help her with feedback and show her other experiences being offered to help her with her design and price decisions . She’s gotten through the first loop, and now she’s working with her team captain.”
She added, “My friend who just applied, she would love to have a spare couple hundreds of dollars a month. She would love to have a little extra income.”
Both Hosts and Airbnb Are Finding Shorter Trips Are Preferred
As Pellegrini, Dandashy, and Segal have noted, they’ve found some success or hope to find success in shortening their Airbnb Trips from multi-day Immersions to one-day Experiences that are both shorter in duration and less expensive.
This is consistent with research compiled by analysts at Raymond James. They noted that, since Trips’ debut in November, supply has increased by approximately 38 percent as of March 13, and that growth has been driven entirely by single Experiences, which have contributed to an approximate 36 percent drop of the average price of an Airbnb Trip in six of the markets they studied. The analysts also found that single, one-day experiences now account for approximately 55 percent of Airbnb Trips, compared to 35 percent in mid-November.
“It’s hard to square away travelers’ schedules in Tokyo with three consecutive days of activities,” Pellegrini said. “Three consecutive days is not easy to come by. I know Airbnb wants to create these Trips so they are a means in and of themselves; they want people to come to Tokyo for the Airbnb Trip. That’s one of their future goals as far as I understand it. But we’re not there yet.”
Segal said she’s currently figuring out how to condense her two-day Trip into a one-day Experience. And when Dandashy first debuted her Trip, is was a three-day Immersion, but now it’s only two days long.
“My original experience was three days but what I was finding was people would book me but say, ‘Oh I can’t do the first or last day,'” said Dandashy. “Working with Airbnb in the beta phase, we thought, OK, maybe three days is too spread out and hard for people to schedule with their travel so that’s why we moved it to a two-day experience, and I’ve had no issues with anyone not being able to attend or having to leave early or anything like that.”
Dandashy also said she’s trying to work with Airbnb to figure out the best days of the week to offer her Airbnb Trip.
These hosts’ experiences are reflective of the fact that offering a tour or activity is a lot more time-consuming and time-intensive than simply renting out a spare room, said O’Sullivan.
“If you’re offering experiences, each one is different and you’re dealing with different persona types. It’s much more taxing on the supplier’s time,” he said. “If I’m a supplier of an experience, I gotta be there, whereas my room is not always occupied. A lot of platforms have struggled with that, with being able to match supply and demand.”
Airbnb Is Assisting with Marketing Trips
While the majority of hosts Skift interviewed were happy with the marketing support (the promotional videos, the use of influencers to experience Trips, etc.) they received from Airbnb for their respective Trips, some said they wish the traveler’s ability to find Trips more easily on the app were improved.
“The way that they portray the experiences are really cool,” Sayegh said. “I think there should be a rotating suggestion list or a featured list, and more clear-cut categories by area so that they can search in a myriad of diff ways.”
“It’s really hard to scale stuff that curated and editorial,” Katz said. “I’m sure they are working on this, but they have to ask themselves: how do you move from this hand-curated content and having staff members going out to contact influencers and shooting videos, but having it all scale as a marketplace would? The scalable business model around this is not there yet.”
He also said that the way in which Trips and Places are both organized right now is very “magazine-like” but not necessarily the most user-friendly. “It requires a lot of effort from the user to browse through each one of these activities and figure out if this is something I’m interested in,” Katz said. “It’s very niche, and figuring out the right Trip or Place that’s right for me is not super simple.”
They’re Not Just for Tourists
On March 15, Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky tweeted that “59 percent of new Airbnb experiences booked in San Francisco are by locals,” an indication that, at least in the San Francisco market, Trips aren’t just for tourists. Raymond James analysts found San Francisco to be the lowest-priced Airbnb Trips market, with an average cost of $80 per Trip, compared to $224 when Trips first launched.
In Klayman’s case, one of her most famous Airbnb Trip guests happened to be Chesky himself, back in December 2016.The Rhode Island School of Design graduate booked her Airbnb Trip and brought along his girlfriend and a few friends to experience Klayman’s unique art experience.
“What he told me when were talking during our art brunch was how proud he was,” she said of Chesky. “This is Airbnb starting a new business. It’s not Airbnb buying a business. That’s what I see it as. They are really working hard. He was very kind and interesting. I am thrilled he gave me a very good review. He also reviewed me positively to his 3,000 employees — he sent his employees an email that Sunday night after class saying that he enjoyed the experience.”
Petgrave said he’s hosted an Airbnb staffer who joined a friend from out of town on one of his Trips, and another one who lives in Los Angeles wound up proposing to his fiancée during the helicopter experience.
As Airbnb does for hosts who rent out their homes, it also provides insurance for hosts of its Airbnb Trips product. Barbone, Pellegrini, Dandashy, Sayegh, Petgrave, and Klayman said they rely on the $2 million liability insurance provided by Airbnb. Klayman also has her own supplemental insurance for her art studio as well, and Petgrave has full approval from the Federal Aviation Administration to operate his flights.
The People-to-People Connection Is Great
Not surprisingly, every host we spoke to said the ability to meet new people was their favorite part of being an Airbnb Trips host. And in some ways, it’s much truer to the company’s original concept of a host-guest relationship, too.
Dandashy said, “You get to connect on such a personal level, which is far different from, maybe, traditional hospitality, meaning where there’ still a little separation between service provider rand service receiver. So many of my guests stay connected with each other.”
The diversity of guests from a range of places is something Pellegrini appreciates, especially as he tries to educate more people about shochu. “It’s a really refreshing mix. Much better than I expected. So I’m pretty happy about that. I’m happy that obviously, another thing that makes this enjoyable for me is that I get to meet these really cool people a few times a month all the time. A few times a month I get a batch of very interesting, often worldly travelers who are curious, open minded, and fun-loving folks. It’s been a lot of fun for me.”
“It’s really cool when people get to learn something,” said Sayegh. “When they fish and catch a fish for the first time and learn how to filet it and cook it — it’s this whole, encompassing experience, and it’s really, really cool.”
Photo credit: It's been six months since Airbnb launched Trips. Skift spoke to several Trips hosts to ask them for their takes on what it's like to be a tour operator. Airbnb / Airbnb