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Brief Published: 20 Apr 2020

Airbnb Launches Online Experiences

As we describe in The Virtual Travel Boom, tour companies are digitally recreating activities to entertain would-be travellers and build relationships with future ones. In early April, Airbnb launched Online Experiences to offer homebound individuals virtual alternatives to its local-led tours.

Hosts from over 30 countries are taking part, offering classes ranging in price from $1 to $65 and in length from 30 minutes to two hours. Formats largely mimic the structure of in-person tours with two-way video chats facilitating interaction between host and guest. Most classes tap into at-home activities that have seen a surge in popularity during lockdowns, such as baking, exercise and meditation – see Social-Distancing Strategies for details. Others aim to replicate the act of exploring a city, such as personalised virtual tours of Paris, or teach new skills, like how to mime. With the home-sharing market currently fallow, it’s a clever way for the company to keep engaging with customers, while giving hosts a venue to earn extra cash.

Airbnb also partnered with local charities to organise no-cost digi-tours for communities most at risk for loneliness during social isolation. In the US, LGBTQ+ advocacy group Sage is co-ordinating classes for older members of its community, while Spanish charity Amigos de los Mayores is using remote experiences to connect with isolated seniors.

Viator, a tour booking platform owned by US travel search engine Tripadvisor, launched a similar platform containing over a hundred remote city tours and local-led lessons. Hosts charge a small fee for the experiences, and Viator is taking no commission fees to ensure maximum profit for operators.

While digital experiences are useful for entertaining bored-at-home individuals, they’re also an effective way for tour operators to support their hosts, who have seen income plummet during travel restrictions. “One of the most consistent requests [from hosts] was to be able to continue hosting online,” says Catherine Powell, head of Airbnb Experiences. Providing remote classes is a smart move to help hosts inspire future bookings among the 55% of travellers who say they’re likely to book a future trip during lockdown (Izea, 2020).