The COVID-19 pandemic forced Airbnb to temporarily halt its Experiences business, but the home-sharing platform has introduced a new way for consumers around the world to attend off-the-beaten-path events from their couches.
Airbnb has launched Online Experiences, which allows hosts to continue earning income by offering their experiences on videoconferencing platform Zoom. The virtual events can be booked through Airbnb’s website and app on specific dates and times, which is how consumers can normally book events on the platform.
Airbnb launched Experiences in 2016 as a way to offer travelers unique activities from locals that go beyond typical group tours. The platform had grown to offer 40,000 events in more than 1,000 cities worldwide. However, in response to COVID-19, the brand suspended in-person experiences through at least April 30.
The new feature offers more than 50 events in more than 30 countries. Experiences include meditation with Buddhist monks in Japan, cooking with a Moroccan family, salsa-making classes in Mexico and going on a virtual tour of Chernobyl through the perspective of dogs. Other options include fitness and nutrition classes led by former Olympians including American bobsledder Lauren Gibbs and British triathlete Alistair Brownlee, and sangria-making with drag queens in Portugal.
“Human connection is at the core of what we do,” said Catherine Powell, head of Airbnb Experiences, in a statement. “With so many people needing to stay indoors to protect their health, we want to provide an opportunity for our hosts to connect with our global community of guests in the only way possible right now, online.”
Airbnb has also partnered with local organizations to curate free experiences for isolated seniors: Amigos de los Mayores (an organization that addresses unwanted loneliness and social isolation among seniors in Spain), the National Council on Aging (which aids people in the U.S. over 60) and SAGE (a U.S. organization dedicated to improving the lives of older LGBT people).
“Millions of elders aren’t able to go outside and risk their health due to the current crisis, and need activities to help them stay connected to the world around them,” said Michael Adams, CEO of SAGE, in a statement. “Through our partnership with Airbnb, SAGE is able to give older members of LGBT communities across the country an opportunity to not only meet other people, but also learn a new hobby and travel to nearly anywhere around the world, all from the safety of their home. This is what partnership and connection is all about.”
Airbnb is offering hosts free Zoom accounts and customized support for their experiences. Hosts are approved through a submission process on Airbnb’s website; it takes around two to four weeks for an experience to get approved. According to the brand, all experiences are required to be 90 minutes or less.
Airbnb hasn’t shared whether it plans to extend its initial ban, or how long it plans to keep Online Experiences as an option.
The pandemic has devastated the travel and tourism industry, with the U.S. Travel Association predicting a loss of 5.9 million travel-related jobs by the end of April. According to CNBC, Airbnb has instated a hiring freeze and temporarily suspended all marketing in response to COVID-19’s impact on the business. Company founders will also take no salary, while executives will take a 50% pay cut for the next six months.