Airbnb used to concentrate on linking up accommodation providers with people who need a place to stay. These days Airbnb is actively pushing Airbnb Experiences and Activities as well.
The Airbnb website describes its local experiences like this:
“Airbnb Experiences are activities designed and led by inspiring locals. They go beyond typical tours or classes by immersing guests in a host’s unique world.”
It’s a decent idea in theory, but many of the experiences Airbnb offers its clients aren’t local at all. I know. I use Airbnb all the time and I’m fast getting sick of all the emails the company sends recommending “local experiences” that are hosted by people who are local to cities many miles away.
This has been annoying me for a while and the last “local experience” email Airbnb sent me only contained activities over 50 kilometres away. If you need to spend an hour or more in transit, that’s not a local experience at all.
At the moment I’m renting a room in Mondéjar, Spain. I arranged it through Airbnb. Last week I got an email with the title “Things to Do in Mondéjar” When I opened the email the first thing I saw was a picture of some people sitting in a bar. It had the words “This Week in Mondéjar”. I didn’t recognize the bar.
Before going any further, I should point out I use the Dutch version of Airbnb. That means all the emails I get are written in Dutch. However, next to English, Dutch is my best language and the translations I provide are correct.
The words below the picture read “Geniet van elk moment dat je in de stad bent.” That sentence is particularly ridiculous because it means “ENJOY EVERY MOMENT THAT YOU ARE IN THE CITY”.
The reason it’s so ridiculous is all the recommendations that followed were for activities in Madrid.
Madrid is around 63 km away. Does that sound like a local experience to you? Something to do in Mondéjar?
So what exactly is Airbnb trying to say here? The best thing to do in Mondéjar is to get out of town? The saddest thing of all is, Mondéjar is a lovely town that has plenty of interesting things to see and do. I’ve written about some of them elsewhere on this blog: http://blog.steve-calvert.co.uk/tag/mondejar/
I got the email on August 23. A few days earlier there’d been a live music show in town. It began on Saturday night and went on into the early hours of the following morning. That was a genuine local experience—something to do in Mondéjar. Airbnb didn’t tell me about that. In the first week of September, there is going to be a bull run in Mondéjar. I’m betting Airbnb won’t know about that either. It will be too busy trying to send people to Madrid.
The Experiences I was Offered That Weren’t Local at All
So what were the first three experiences Airbnb offered?
Option one was to go to an arts and crafts workshop and make my own printed scarf. It was a two-hour experience that would have cost around €52. Plus a further €5.30 each way on the bus.
Option two was to attend a flamenco masterclass and walking tour. It would have been a walking tour as well. During the week, the last class finishes at 8 pm. The last bus back to Mondéjar leaves Madrid at 7:30 pm.
The flamenco Airbnb experience had a four-hour time slot along with a hefty price tag of €99 per person. I’d rather keep my money and spend it on a real local experience instead.
And option three? It was hosted at the same arts and crafts workshop as option one. The difference was, instead of making my own printed scarf I could make a silver ring.
None of these sound like the kind of experience I would like. It’s strictly tourist stuff. If I want to have a local experience I am capable of going and finding my own. That’s what I always do.
So why is Airbnb trying to push such mismatched opportunities on me or, indeed, on anyone else? I’m guessing it all comes down to a matter of money. It seems unlikely that Airbnb is sending customers to the people hosting these experiences out of the goodness of its heart. There’s probably some kind of commission involved and, due to its desire to squeeze more money out of its customers, if Airbnb doesn’t have a local experience that fits, it appears to send something else instead.
Am I being too hard on Airbnb? I think not. An email about “This week in Mondéjar” shouldn’t be about this week in Madrid.
A Better Alternative to Airbnb Experiences and Activities
If you want to find genuine experiences in the area you’re visiting, I suggest you check out the local council websites and Facebook pages. Do the same for the local restaurants and bars. You could be surprised at what you find and it will certainly be cheaper than booking an “experience” through Airbnb.
Another good thing to do is talk to locals and ask them for recommendations. For safety reasons, it may be best not to approach strangers in the street, but it’s easy to strike up a conversation with the staff working in shops, restaurants, and bars. Nobody knows a city or town better than the people who live and work there.
When I was in Serbia, I got some very good recommendations from a girl who worked in a bar in Belgrade. One of the bars she recommended was so good I went back every week to see the live band. As far as I know, I was the only foreigner in the room. It was a local band, singing in Serbian for local people. It was real. Airbnb experiences appear to be canned.
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