Or, as an “Experience” guide.
Airbnb is offering a career path.
Credit: Courtesy of Airbnb

When Airbnb announced this week the launch of Trips—an expanded service that makes the company much more than a short-term rental provider—they not only changed what they offer travelers: They changed what they offer hosts.

The company's new “Experiences” are launching in select cities, and will expand to many new cities next year. And to make those “handcrafted” and unique experiences happen, they're going to need hosts. Lots of them.

If making money as a tour guide (even though Airbnb won't call these offerings “tours”) sounds appealing, this might just be a new career path, says the company's head of global hospitality, Chip Conley.

“We want to be the most loved company in travel, and to be the most loved company in travel we need to move beyond accommodations,” Conley told Travel + Leisure.

But more than a move for the company, he sees potential for young people to see “host” as a job option: “To imagine someone as an 18-year-old, and say, ‘What do you want to do when you grow up?’ ‘I want to be a host.’”

“For a guy who's been in the hospitality industry for 30 years...that's exciting,” said Conley, who worked in hotel hospitality before joining Airbnb. “I love that we can literally create a career path of being a host.”

According to the Pew Research Center, 24 percent of Americans reported earning money in the past year with the “digital platform economy.” Eight percent of survey respondents reported taking on temporary employment through a digital platform, and 1 percent reported renting out their home (on sites like Airbnb). Whether gig employment—which offers increased flexibility and decreased job security and benefits—sounds exciting or terrifying to you, it's undeniably a growing sector of the job market.

Through Experiences, one need not have a home to rent out in order to be a host. Instead, upon approval by Airbnb, someone can show visitors around their hometown, or lead them in workshops on topics and skills for which they have expertise. Some of the first offerings with the new launch include Korean embroidery, off-road biking, painting, and photography.

How to Be a Host

“You actually have to qualify,” said Conley. “I'm not going to just go put my experience up and I'm off to the races as an Experience host.”

To start, host hopefuls must create an experience through Airbnb's website. Hosts are expected to be credible (“knowledgeable about my subject or skilled at my activity, and can demonstrate this to guests”), genuine (“passionate about hosting and meeting people”), and empathetic (“I keep in mind that each group I host will have varying levels of familiarity with my subject”).

Experiences, meanwhile, must provide unique access (“an experience that your guests wouldn’t be able to find on their own”), participation (“guests should be able to fully take part in your experience by participating in two or more activities—not just observe them”), and perspective (“Every experience should have some sort of personal meaning”).

After agreeing to meet those standards, applicants much supply each detail about the experience, from the time it will take to what's provided to the cost for guests.

Being Vetted

“More than anything, one lesson we've had is the process of vetting and having quality control is very important for Experiences,” said Conley.

Along those lines, the company is still learning what makes a great host, and how they can identify them—especially on a global scale.

Making Money

About half of the Experiences now available, which vary from a couple hours to multi-day excursions, are less than $200 per person, according to Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky.

Since each Experience would vary in the number of participants, it's not yet clear how much money a host could make. (In many major cities, renting out homes gets hosts several thousand dollars a year.) But as with most of the gig economy, the earning potential will typically increase depending on the time and effort dedicated by hosts.

The Experiences offered give Airbnb users options for tours.
Credit: Courtesy of Airbnb

What Makes a Great Host

“Passion,” said Conley, when asked what makes a great host. “Sometimes the passion comes through in an application it can come through in an interview.”

But of course passion isn't all someone needs. “Having experience in what they're doing,” he said, adding that “someone who's naturally empathetic” will be better at understanding the guests who come from all over the world.

In previous years, Airbnb has emphasized the personal connections made through the platform. The company tells a story of itself that is more than a rental service; Chesky calls Airbnb a “people-powered platform,” and says it's more about a trip than a place to sleep. Those connections, however, have been separate from the financial transaction of renting a room. Now, with Experiences, the connection will have a dollar sign attached to it.

“Many [hosts] are doing it for financial reasons, but if the whole experience becomes commoditized, you really do take some of the magic away,” said Conley.