I used to host an Airbnb Experience — here’s how it all happened.

For two years I gave walking tours through the majestic streets of Melbourne. I used Airbnb ‘Experiences’ to source the ‘guests’, advertise the tour, handle the transactions, and communicate with my guests. This is a story about my experience creating my own tour and working with the Airbnb platform.

The Spark

I thought this Experience thing sounded like a great idea and immediately started thinking about what experiences I could create. With my love of Melbourne, interest in history and hours spent walking around the Melbourne CBD, a walking tour appeared to be the logical choice. I could speak a decent amount of Spanish and Portuguese, so I figured a local Melburnian giving tours in those languages might be a key point of differentiation.

Two people speaking different languages
Two people speaking different languages

Pre-work

Most of the walking tours were 3 hours long, with a 20 break in the middle. I decided that this was too long and wanted to keep my tour to 2 hours maximum. I designed my own route that contained a good mix of architectural marvels and laneway secrets.

The final step was to take photos of me pretending to be a tour guide and write a profile on Airbnb. I set my price point at $25, which I thought was about right for what I would pay for a two-hour walking tour. Airbnb takes a 20% cut and I had to also pay income tax on the remainder.

Screenshot of my Airbnb experience page
Screenshot of my Airbnb experience page

Size of the market

The market of Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking guests proved to be very small. I did two tours in Spanish and one in Portuguese. Unfortunately, my language skills became rusty and I eventually no longer felt comfortable offering tours in those languages.

Airbnb encourages its hosts to also market themselves through other channels. I didn’t have the time or inclination to do marketing and I didn’t forecast a high enough return on investment. I also believed that Airbnb’s 20% commission was fair for its lead generation but was too high if I had to source the customers myself. This was a personal belief however and you might find their fees reasonable for the service it provides.

During the winter, international tourism dried up and the trickle of guests I received were mostly Australians on weekend getaways. Incidentally, found Australian tourists to be the nicest and most appreciative of my tours.

Tumbleweeds
Tumbleweeds

Earnings

Graph showing impact of number of guests on money and sanity
Graph showing impact of number of guests on money and sanity

Reviews

I received an email one day offering me a complimentary phone call with a consultant from Airbnb. This advisor could give me tips to help me attract more business and also provide advice on how to get the most out of Airbnb. While I originally thought it was a nice gesture, five minutes into the call I realised that Airbnb were essentially scolding me for my ‘poor’ reviews. I sensed that they were subtly hinting that if my reviews didn’t improve, they might need to boot me off the site. The tips that they provided were well-informed, however they were not in keeping with the vision of my tour, and so I mostly disregarded them.

Screenshot of Airbnb review page
Screenshot of Airbnb review page

It’s been an Experience!

While there weren’t enough steady earnings to justify tour guiding as a continued side hustle, the experience allowed me to train my communication and public speaking skills. Constantly iterating my tour gave me practise in being agile and showing empathy for my guests. I also made some great friends and learnt a lot about myself along the way.

  • Have you been on any Airbnb experiences? Or even hosted one?
  • Do you give 5 star reviews if you are happy with restaurants or other attractions?

Senior Product Manager @ Campaign Monitor