When Jim Quinlan received a phone call from Barcelona in late July, he was a little surprised.
The caller was an international representative from Airbnb. She wanted Quinlan, who runs a small-scale organic, solar-powered honey bee farm in Clearwater, Florida, to list his tours on Experiences, a rapidly expanding Airbnb feature that connects visitors with unique local attractions. And for locals, it’s a convenient way to get paid to share what makes their town unique.
“They were following my Facebook and website. They wanted to get Airbnb Experiences going and thought [I] would be a good fit,” said Quinlan, who runs Florida Bee Farm. “The world has really gotten smaller.”
How Airbnb Experiences Started Slow and Took Off
At its launch in 2016, Airbnb Experiences had only 500 listings. Through recent initiatives, like reaching out directly to prospective hosts and expanding to major cities, the company now boasts more than 300,000 Experiences worldwide
Part of that expansion, at least along Florida’s west coast, can be attributed to a bit of unabashed pestering from Orlando Cano, the owner of a kayak tour business called Paradise Adventures Sarasota.
Cano stumbled upon Experiences long before it was available in Florida, and he encouraged Airbnb to allow him to list kayak tours in the mangroves of Lido Key, a prime location for manatee and dolphin sightings.
“For over a year, I emailed them once a week, ‘Do you do it now?”’ he said. “‘Do you do it now?”
In September 2018, Airbnb relented.
“For the first six months, we were the only Airbnb Experience in Sarasota,” he said.
Since then, he’s garnered more than 500 glowing reviews, hundreds more than his closest competitor on the platform.
How to Create Your Own Airbnb Experience
If you’re already an Airbnb host, you can sign up for Airbnb Experiences relatively easily. New users must be at least 18 years old and must have their identities verified by the company before hosting an experience. Verification includes uploading a photo of a government-issued ID plus providing a full legal name and address.
You don’t have to rent out accommodations on Airbnb to create and run an Experiences listing. The services operate separately.
Once verification is complete, submit your Airbnb Experiences idea for approval. Experiences should broadly fit into one of these categories: Art and Culture, Entertainment, Food and Drink, Nature, Sports or Wellness.
Think guided meditation on the beach, craft beer pub crawl that showcases your town’s microbrews or a curated date-night that features hands-on cooking with local cuisine.
For approved Airbnb Experiences, the company provides $1 million in insurance protection for most accidents (driving and flying are not covered). For hosts, Airbnb charges 20% of the sales price for each booking.
What Makes an Airbnb Experience Listing Successful?
Baseline qualifications aside, how you market your Experience is everything. Quinlan and Cano shared what makes their listings shine.
Representing Your Locale
Cano and Quinlan say tourists comprise the vast majority of their client base.
Because Airbnb recommends Experiences to those who book nearby accommodations through the app, they say having an offering emblematic of the area is crucial to attracting visitors.
For example, Florida is a hot spot for tourism with a reputation for outdoor activities and unique wildlife. Both Cano and Quinlan have very “Florida” experiences, but their tours go deeper than a basic travel guide recommendation about popular zoos or beaches.
Since most of their clients are from out of town, being able to speak more broadly about Florida during their tours is helpful too, they said.
Getting In Early (If You Can)
Airbnb Experiences is still a new concept to many, so setting up a listing early can have lasting perks.
Because of Cano’s foresight, he was able to enjoy months with zero competition on Airbnb Experiences, even with traditional competitors operating “six feet” from where he launches.
“People say, ‘Hey, we found you on Airbnb. That’s awesome. We would’ve never found you otherwise,’” Cano said. “It definitely helps to be the first game in town.”
Expertise and Passion
The Airbnb Experience website recommends that hosts have “insider access” and “expertise” to run a listing that really connects with people. Essentially, guests want hosts to show them a good time they couldn’t otherwise have on their own.
Cano and Quinlan love nature, and during their tours, they let it show. Cano has a Master Naturalist certification from the University of Florida, which gives him knowledge well outside the bounds of kayaking. He says it’s useful when gliding through the mangroves to be able to talk about wildlife and nature. The ability to read weather patterns is crucial for his line of work, as well.
For Quinlan, the educational component of his honey bee experience is huge. He gets a lot of group tours for birthdays, as well as bookings for people who are really into bees — and those who are not. But he doesn’t want to bore his guests. He says his passion for his honey bee farm helps him connect with people, and it keeps the whole group engaged.
“When [I] get a hug from people… because they had so much fun – that’s my favorite part,” Quinlan said.
High-Quality Photos and Descriptions
As with any online platform where you’re selling a good or service, the listing itself is crucial.
It’s a place for you to showcase your expertise and passion in the text and enliven the experience with several high-quality photos.
For Cano’s listing, he included seven photos of kayakers paddling through the crystal blue waters of Sarasota Bay. He’s sure to include another big draw for his tours: the wildlife. A few photos highlight encounters from curious dolphins and manatees. In his bio, he mentions his Master Naturalist certification and his years of experience kayaking.
Quinlan’s listing capitalizes on those same themes. He posted a mix of shots: some close-ups of honey bee hives, some geared-up guests inspecting colonies, and some of him leading discussions to underscore the education component.
The approval process for a listing can be arduous. Airbnb vets listings closely, and may send back questions or critiques with feedback on what to fix.
Avoid any reference to other businesses or websites (even your own). Airbnb doesn’t allow full names, phone numbers or email addresses to be included, as they aim to channel all booking and correspondence through Airbnb.
Reviews, Reviews, Reviews
Reviews are the name of the game. They are a shortcut for people to see if your Experience is worth their money.
Setting expectations in the description is part of garnering good reviews. But most of it is through connections you make with your guests. Being flexible and responsive will ensure a more positive experience.
When [I] get a hug from people… because they had so much fun – that’s my favorite part.
And sometimes creating a positive experience means setting limits. For Quinlan, running a solar-powered bee farm is hard work, and he doesn’t want to dread leading tour after tour. So he keeps it to about two bookings a week. And to maintain the quality of his kayak tours, Cano limits his group size to 10 kayakers per guide — not the most profitable model in the short term. But it allows him to interact more with his guests.
“Treat everybody like they’re the only customer you’re ever gonna have,” Cano said. “Not only do you want people to go home and smile, you want people to go home and smile and take out their phone or their computer and write about you.”
Adam Hardy is a staff writer at Codetic. He specializes in ways to make money that don’t involve stuffy corporate offices. Read his latest articles here, or say hi on Twitter @hardyjournalism.