With the Olympics Postponed, Airbnb and Athletes Will Host a Virtual Summer Festival

The 5-day event features more than 100 Olympian and Paralympian experiences and Japan excursions

From left: Tongan skier Pita Taufatofua, American track star Allyson Felix and Chinese sailboat racer Lijia Xu will host experiences. Airbnb
Headshot of Ian Zelaya

While fans have to wait until 2021 watch their favorite Olympians and Paralympians compete in Tokyo, Airbnb is launching an online festival of experiences hosted by athletes timed to the original kickoff of the 2020 Summer Olympics.

The home-sharing platform, in partnership with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the International Paralympic Committee (IPC), will host a five-day festival of events led by more than 100 Olympic and Paralympic athletes from more than 20 countries, including Naomi Osaka, Yusra Mardini, Rui Hachimura and Lex Gillette.

The event, officially titled the Summer Festival of Olympian and Paralympian Online Experiences, kicks off July 24 and will live on Airbnb’s platform. Select experiences will stream live or on replay on the Airbnb and Olympic YouTube channels.

Airbnb initially planned in-person programs for the summer games as part of a nine-year global sponsorship deal with IOC, which began in 2019. After the Covid-19 pandemic forced the IOC to postpone the Olympics in March, and Airbnb to pivot its Experiences business to online offerings in April, the partners found an opportunity to celebrate athletes and support them financially.

Airbnb will also offer experiences hosted by Japanese locals, including a tour of Shibuya.

“We launched Online Experiences in response to the crisis and the desire of our hosts to continue hosting and earning money. We onboarded many Olympian and Paralympian hosts as part of this,” said Catherine Powell, head of Airbnb Experiences. “As we saw how our guests responded positively to having these close and personal experiences with athletes, it became clear with our Olympic partners that we should launch this festival at a time when the games should’ve happened.”

The five-day program will offer experiences across multiple time zones and fans will have two ways to participate in the festival: Beginning July 22 they can book experiences directly on Airbnb, which are hosted on Zoom, or they can watch select events for free on YouTube. A schedule on Airbnb’s site and app will have dates and times for both options.

Powell said curating the festival program was fairly easy for the brand, as many athletes brought unique ideas to the table.

“They’ve brought immense diversity to the platform. We have a diversity of language, country and sport,” she said. “You can work out with them, cook with them, learn goal setting with them. They’ve been creative with what the experiences can be.”

While some experiences will be available after the festival ends, certain offerings will be exclusive to the festival. Program highlights include:

  • A workout led by Paralympian Tatyana McFadden
  • Resilience and overcoming obstacles with Yusra Mardini, a Syrian swimmer and member of the first IOC Refugee team in 2016
  • A cooking class with British sprint and hurdling athlete Colin Jackson
  • Beachside Zumba with retired Brazilian pole vaulter Tom Hintnaus
  • Quarantine training with Japanese tennis star Naomi Osaka
  • A peek into sneaker culture with Japanese basketball player Rui Hachimura
  • A grand slam-inspired training regimen with Indian tennis player Sania Mirza
  • Returning to sport after motherhood with American track star Allyson Felix

“The festival is a great platform to unite and inspire the world in the spirit of friendship and solidarity this summer,” said IOC president Thomas Bach in a statement. “We are delighted to collaborate with Airbnb to provide innovative economic empowerment opportunities for Olympic and Paralympic athletes around the world.”

Additional local experiences include a tour of Kyoto and a guide to ramen in Tokyo.

Additionally, the festival will spotlight the host country of Japan with multiple travel-themed experiences already available to book on Airbnb. Through a partnership with the Shibuya City Tourism Association, local hosts will lead online activities including A Tour of Historic Shibuya and Teacense. Other virtual experiences hosted by locals include Sake Secrets from Japan’s Oldest Brewery, Explore Kyoto Where Unique Old Gods Live and Become a Ramen Expert.

Powell said she hopes consumers that participate in the festival take away a sense of connection in tandem with what the Olympics normally provides as an event.

“Our hosts are delivering connection to our guests to create this sense of belonging, which is what we’re founded on,” she said. “The connection we’re creating between athletes and our guests goes to the heart of what the partnership is all about.”

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ian.zelaya@adweek.com Ian Zelaya is an Adweek reporter covering how brands engage with consumers in the modern world, ranging from experiential marketing and social media to email marketing and customer experience.