Even if you’ve never used Airbnb, you’re probably familiar with the concept. Airbnb acts as a middle person between travelers and people with rooms, homes and apartments to rent. It offers an alternative to booking a hotel or motel. But Airbnb has ambitions that extend beyond just providing a place to stay; it wants to sell experiences.
Airbnb’s wider rollout of its Experiences offerings opens up an interesting chapter for the business and its customers. Airbnb hopes you will book a room for a week and then fill up that time with cooking lessons, sailboat tours, guided hikes, or bicycle rides…all provided through Airbnb.
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What is an Experience?
The word “experience” can have a wide range of meanings. Coming from Airbnb, it means connecting customers with local guides. The company promotes it by saying, “Seek out your passion. Meet locals who share your interests, from art collectors to avid hikers. Or surprise yourself by trying something totally new.”
This moves beyond just having someone show you around a new city. Experiences range from going backstage at a jazz club in Paris to taking a sunset bike ride in Florida. They can last from just a couple hours to several days.
Find an experience
The easiest way to find an experience is with the Airbnb app for iOS or Android. Open it up and choose “Experiences.” Airbnb lays its experiences out in categories including sports, nature, social impact, entertainment, food, history and arts. Narrow down your search by category or just browse the whole list to see what catches your eye. Here are a few highlights:
Arts: Kintsugi Golden Joinery
Kintsugi is the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with lacquer, usually mixed with gold or other precious metals. This method results in beautifully renewed creations that are held together with bright metallic threads. The Airbnb-brokered Kintsugi Experience takes place over 9.5 hours in a three-day period. It starts with a special dinner served in kintsugi pottery, then includes a workshop where you learn kintsugi techniques, and ends with snacks and tea and with your own piece of pottery to take home.
The experience takes place in Tokyo and is hosted by a kintsugi master who has been practicing the art since 1972. This definitely isn’t your usual sort of tourist-oriented vacation. Just be sure to pack your pottery well to survive the trip back home.
Food & Drink: The truffle hunter
Truffles are a rare delicacy and can command huge prices at any market. Chefs value them for their distinctive earthy flavor, but most people have never actually seen a truffle growing out in the wild. The truffle hunter experience can change that by taking you on a truffle hunt in the Tuscan countryside in Italy. The host, Giulio, is a certified truffle hunter who takes his dog Eda along on the search for the elusive and prized fungus. The experience includes the hunt, a food tasting, and a tutorial on cleaning, preserving and tasting truffles. Happy guests are applauding the beautiful landscape and uniqueness of the experience.
Entertainment: Lindy Hop
The energetic Lindy Hop dance might have originated in the U.S. in the 1920s, but it spread into a worldwide phenomenon. You can do the Lindy hop in Rome with an unusual experience that takes you through five hours of cocktails and dancing in the Italian city’s music clubs. Don’t worry if you don’t already know the Lindy hop. Your host, a professional dancer and actress, will give you lessons. Just be sure to wear comfortable shoes since you’ll be on your feet and dancing into the night. This is the perfect way to work off that Italian cooking class experience you booked earlier in the day.
Nature: Desert Wanderer
California’s famous Joshua trees are prickly, otherworldly looking plants and they’re one of the highlights of the Desert Wanderer experience. This three-day immersive adventure includes horseback riding in the Hollywood Hills (with mimosas), a day of exploring among the Joshua trees, a night of stargazing, and a final day visiting the town of Joshua Tree. Rian, a self-described “desert rat,” hosts the experience, which has racked up quite a few glowing reviews from guests.
The fine print
Just as with booking a place to stay, experiences are subject to a cancellation policy. You can cancel an experience within 24 hours of booking it, or 30 days before it’s set to start, and still get a full refund. Within 30 days you can only get a full refund if another customer books your spot and completes the experience. Airbnb does allow for certain extenuating circumstances, such as a serious illness or natural disaster.
Be sure to read through the guest requirements before you book. Some experiences have age restrictions (often 18+), while others may require certain skills or levels of physical conditioning (like the ability to comfortably ride a bike for a certain number of miles). These details are spelled out, so you will be able to quickly assess if an experience will work for you.
As with Airbnb’s room and home rentals, there is a rating system for experiences. Check out the ratings, read the reviews, and use them to help guide your booking decision. If it all works out, you could soon be learning DJing skills in Tokyo or honing your salsa dance skills in Cuba.