If potential hosts in the U.S. Virgin Islands show enough interest, Airbnb Experiences, an extension of the globally utilized, people-to-people accommodations platform, could help boost the territory’s micro-tourism economy by making it easier for travelers to connect with local guides.
Like Airbnb’s accommodations site, Experiences hosts have their own page that travelers can use to book their experience, which can include almost any type of travel related activity, such as a hike with a local naturalist, sampling regional fare on a food tour, doing yoga on the beach, learning about basket weaving or donning a mermaid costume for a photo shoot.
Today, the platform offers more than 30,000 activities run by hosts across more than 1,000 markets around the world. The platform has grown quickly since launching three years ago, as the off-the-beaten-path, experience based travel industry grows in popularity. In 2016, Experiences launched with roughly 500 experiences.
“Airbnb Experiences immerse travelers in local communities around the world by offering one of a kind activities that are handcrafted and led by local experts. Experiences go beyond typical tours or classes by immersing guests in each host’s unique world,” Carlos Munoz, Airbnb’s campaign manager for the Caribbean and Central America, said.
A recent New York Times article underscores the growth of this new travel trend: “Global spending on the so-called experience economy, which is being driven primarily by millennial consumers, is expected to reach $8.2 trillion by 2028, according to the market research firm Euromonitor.”
The platform handles payment processing, provides 24-hour customer service and covers liability insurance – up to $1 million coverage for most activities. In exchange, Airbnb charges a 20% service fee on Experiences sales.
While the platform doesn’t exist yet in the USVI, it could if there’s enough demand in the form of hosts completing an online application process.
“We welcome the opportunity to expand Experiences to the U.S. Virgin Islands, creating new economic opportunities for locals,” Munoz said.
Airbnb Experiences launched in neighboring Puerto Rico in May 2018 in an effort to help drive tourism to the island following Hurricane Maria.
At launch, Puerto Rico had nearly 50 experiences across the island ranging from a sailing experience at sunset in San Juan Bay, to hiking in a nature reserve in the mountains. Currently there are around 175 experiences available in Puerto Rico.
This past spring Bermuda became the fourth destination to offer Airbnb Experiences in the wider Caribbean-Atlantic region, and in late summer the Bahamas become the fifth, following Cuba, Puerto Rico and Jamaica.
To launch in the USVI, a minimum number of hosts need to sign up. While Airbnb didn’t name a specific number, the company did state that it launched in Puerto Rico with 50 experiences. That number seems attainable for the USVI, given the number of tour operators that are already in existence that could use the site as a way to drive more bookings to their business.
The application process for hosts who wish to offer experiences is completed entirely online and remains open to new ideas year-round.
“We have established positive, collaborative relationships with tourism stakeholders in USVI, and look forward to the opportunity to partner with them to drive local awareness and interest in Airbnb Experiences,” Munoz said.
Marketing is a financial challenge for many small entrepreneurs looking to offer independent tourism experiences.
“In the past, it was difficult for individuals to market and sell independent experiences to travelers. Airbnb has given entrepreneurs access to our global network, and while the average person earned $2,500 per experience listed in 2018, some of our top hosts are earning more than $300,000 in a year from hosting Experiences,” Munoz said.
Experiences could be a boon for the territory’s agrotourism economy too, which is a prime example of the authentic, experienced-based tourism that travelers are increasingly interested in. Farmers could lead farms tours and offer farm-to-table meals to supplement their incomes.
“Airbnb Experiences are well positioned to seize this opportunity while providing an antidote to mass-produced tourism, enabling travelers to experience a different and authentic side of a destination through local residents,” Munoz said.
Those interested in learning more can access a range of host stories and information on successful Experiences rollouts around the world by visiting Airbnb’s press page.