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Airbnb isn’t just about lodging in the Bay State anymore. Through the travel website, users can now book excursions that include sailing, shucking oysters, hiking, cooking lobsters, and flying a hot-air balloon.
The company’s “Airbnb Experiences,” a marketplace of activities created and hosted by local community members, debuted in Massachusetts on April 30. The activities span a dozen different categories that include food and drink, nature, entertainment, and history. The program launched worldwide in 2016, but Massachusetts is the first New England state to offer it.
“Traditionally you have booked homes on Airbnb,” said Riccardo Ulivi, head of North American operations for Airbnb Experiences. “But now we want to be essentially a travel platform that allows you to book your entire trip on the Airbnb app.”
Through Airbnb Experiences, you can stand-up paddleboard in Marblehead with Maryellen, an “outdoor recreation enthusiast.” You can join Carlos, a freelance photographer, on a professional photo shoot of historic spots around Boston. Learn to fly a hot-air balloon with a pilot named Jordan in Great Barrington, or shuck oysters on the docks of East Boston with Alexis, a Boston native and founder of a “secret supper club.” If you prefer lobsters to oysters, you can get them straight from a lobster boat, then cook and eat them with Jennifer and Keith, a married couple in Quincy.
“We really want to focus on a new category of experiential travel that allows anyone to become a host,” Ulivi said.
Airbnb Experiences has grown from 500 experiences in 12 cities worldwide to 9,000 experiences in 70 cities since its inception. It will expand to 1,000 cities worldwide this year, including 200 more American cities, Ulivi said. Boston is part of that expansion.
“We think that Boston could be one of our biggest cities in North America and we’re super excited about it,” Ulivi said. “Boston is a truly unique city. It has everything from the historical significance in the U.S. to some of the most innovative cultures and the most delicious foods. The city has so much to offer. So to be able to work with locals in Boston to help showcase their city, showcase their passion, was a real no-brainer.”
Small businesses, entrepreneurs, and nonprofit organizations submit experience ideas to Airbnb for approval and set their own prices, Ulivi said. Since the program began in 2016, the company has received 55,000 requests worldwide to host experiences, and 9,000 have been approved, he said Requests must meet the company’s high quality standards, which include being friendly and hospitable, displaying expertise, and giving guests insider access. The excursion should also offer Airbnb users something different from a typical tourist attraction.
“We don’t want to have this be just another channel for mass tourism,” Ulivi said.
Airbnb earns a 20 percent commission on each experience, with the exception of the “social impact” experiences hosted by nonprofit organizations, Ulivi said. In those instances, the nonprofits earn 100 percent of the profit.
For example, when you opt for a two-hour sail on the Boston Harbor for $35 per person, the money you spend will help provide summer programming to nearly 1,000 children at Courageous Sailing Center for Youth, Inc. Choose a 90-minute violin or cello lesson for $30 per person to benefit the Boston String Academy, a nonprofit organization that offers an after-school string program to inner-city students.
“We’re seeing a trend in travel where you’re able to give back to the community,” Ulivi said. “That’s why we’re really excited about social impact, and it’s something we’re investing a lot in.”
A social impact experience with Donnie Wahlberg to benefit the Boys & Girls Clubs of Dorchester has already sold out. During the $200 two-hour experience, which was open to just seven people, Wahlberg will show Airbnb users some of his favorite Boston spots and teach them to flip burgers at his family’s restaurant, Wahlburgers.
“Not every city is going to be getting the level of investment that Boston is getting,” Ulivi said. “We’re putting more of an emphasis on the launch because Boston is so unique and wonderful.”