Airbnb Opportunities for Tourism Destinations
In this episode, episode 71, I enjoy a fantastic chat with Airbnb host and expert Jodie Willmer about opportunities and lessons for tourism destinations regarding Airbnb’s latest move into Trips. Jodie has a tonne of experience in strategy and governance for destinations and not for profits so is the perfect person to look at the sharing economy and specifically Airbnb and share what opportunities could be present for many tourism destinations. As always you can read the show notes below but you’ll get better value through listening, so please press play and enjoy learning about Airbnb Opportunities for Tourism Destinations!
In this episode we discuss Airbnb Opportunities for Tourism Destinations including
- Airbnb moving beyond accommodation and launching Trips, creating this whole opportunity for people to share their talents and their skills with guests.
- Airbnb’s nondiscrimination policy and their commitment to inclusion and respect.
- People are looking for different type of experiences, not a cookie-cutter type of experience.
- People are looking for connecting with other people, and getting to know locals, and having an experience which is unique.
- People want to experience destinations like a local
- Tourism destinations need to rethink traditional partnerships and look outside their industry for partnerships and opportunities.
And lots more great stuff! Listen in and please feel free to tweet me with your comment or drop me an email at email@example.com
HollyG: Today, we welcome Jodie Willmer. Jodie is an Airbnb host and expert, and works in governance and strategy consultant. We’ll be talking today about Airbnb Opportunities for Tourism Destinations. Welcome to the podcast, Jodie.
Jodie: Thank you, Holly, for having me.
HollyG: You’ve recently attended the much talked about Airbnb Open in LA which is a huge event run by Airbnb with thousands of people and Airbnb hosts attend. Can you tell us a little bit about Airbnb Open and why you attended this event?
Jodie: Absolutely. My partner, Rob and I are in fact Airbnb hosts, and we started hosting about three years ago in Melbourne. We’ve realised very quickly that our experience and background in tourism and project management helped us provide amazing guest experiences. By that, I mean we created templates, and checklists, and a house menu for our guests so that they could feel really independent and really immerse themselves in experiences in Melbourne that we love to share with people.
Because our Airbnb is a whole of apartment, we don’t live with the guests. We really wanted to set the guests up for success. That was three years ago when we started hosting, and we realized that there was this huge community of hosts around the world that we really wanted to be more involved with, so we went to the first Airbnb Open in San Francisco in November 2014. Because of the time zone differences, we were a bit concerned that we wouldn’t get a ticket because there were like limited spots of less than a thousand people.
You know when, and time has gone by, people would ring up the radio to win a price and you like keep hitting redial? We kept hitting “Refresh” on the computer to get our tickets. I guess we were pretty hooked after having this initial experience of Airbnb Open, and so then we went to Paris last year, and we were actually host educators running a couple of workshops, and then this year …
HollyG: Wow, great.
Jodie: Yeah. It was an amazing experience as well, and so then when this opportunity came up to go to the Airbnb Open in LA in November, as it turned out, we were also going to be in Mexico for some governance and strategy work with an international not-for-profit, so the stars aligned, and it worked out beautifully with the timing.
HollyG:: Yeah. Great, great. I didn’t know Airbnb did all these sort of things for their hosts
Jodie: Yeah. The first one was in San Francisco in 2014, and I guess they just dipped their toe in the water. It was quite an intimate gathering. Intimate from the point of view of the founders of Airbnb were quite accessible. There was a small number of people attending. The majority of people at the first one were from the US, but some die-hard Airbnb hosts like ourselves from Australia and a number of other friends too. I think what has happened over time is that Airbnb have been nurturing their community of hosts and guests in different ways, and obviously, having face-to-face events are one of the ways that they can do that quite effectively.
HollyG: Yeah, sure. This particular event that was just held recently was very talked about because they made a few big announcements about the direction of where they’re planning on going in the travel and tourism space. Can you talk a little bit about some of those announcements?
Jodie: Certainly. Airbnb is known predominantly for being a platform where people can list spaces for people to come and stay as guests, so that could be a spare room or a lounge room. Obviously, the origin of Airbnb was using air mattresses in the founder’s lounge room. There was a big design conference, and people attended and stayed, so that was the origin.
The evolution of Airbnb has been focused predominantly on accommodation, and there’s been changes on the platform that enable people to provide additional information for the guests about the local community or ways that people can experience local bars and cafes, and immerse themselves, and live like a local, but I guess things have evolved and changed over time, and they … Airbnb have been trialing over the last two years what they described as “Trips,” so unique experiences that are curated by hosts for their guests.
The announcement at the Airbnb Open just recently in LA was really to launch the world of trips which unique experiences, and that could include personalized chefs coming to the home of the Airbnb, street artists, burlesque dancers, even sumo champs. It’s creating this whole opportunity for people to share their talents and their skills with guests in a way that they’ve never been able to before.
HollyG: Yeah. It’s really tapping into the tours and things to do when you’re in destination space so that tours and activity sector is where I guess they’re edging into?
Jodie: That’s right, and we know for a fact that tourism businesses and individuals have been offering amazing experiences that have been quite curated and personalized for many, many years. Small walking tours or going to hidden bars. Different sort of artisans, food premises, and things like that, or even cooking tours, but I think where there’s been a disconnect for people who are using the Airbnb platform, once you become hooked so to speak on the convenience of being able to book everything online, and also have your reputation of trust and safety with the guest reviews, and remembering too it’s a two-way review system, so the guests review the hosts and the hosts review the guests.
Now, we’re actually seeing that this is providing a far greater ecosystem for people to choose different experiences, and I can see that this is actually quite a fantastic opportunity for more mainstream tours and businesses to perhaps offer experiences to Airbnb hosts under one platform … Airbnb guests rather.
HollyG: Yeah, yeah. I guess, yeah, that leads into my next question is … Okay. As maybe a smaller tourism destination or any size tourism destination, what are some of the things we need to get our head around when we’re talking about Airbnb whether it’s people hosting from an accommodation perspective or anticipating the fact that Airbnb are looking to expand into other sectors of the industry, not just accommodation? What are some of the things tourism destinations need to get their head around?
Jodie: A lot of the work that we do in our governance and strategy consulting is working with regional tourism destinations about their broadest strategy. I guess I’ve heard many different perspectives about the sharing economy, and there are certain ends of the spectrum. Some more traditional accommodation operators may feel quite threatened by the rise and the rapid growth of Airbnb or other types of accommodation where people can book directly with a host, but I think really what it says to me is that people are looking for different type of experiences.
I guess the thing we need to focusing on is, in what ways can tourism businesses tailor and make their experiences quite unique and help connect people with people. I did a webinar recently for a caravan and camping industry association, and some of their cabin operators said, “Could we list on Airbnb?” Of course, you can. It’s like a marketplace that any type of appropriate accommodation can list on apart from an igloo because in New York, when they had those big storms, somebody put up an igloo and Airbnb took it off because they didn’t think that was safe and appropriate.
Anyway. Yeah. My response to the cabin operators was, “Are you actually setting up your experiences for people to connect with people, or is it just another platform where you think you can get more bookings from?” I’ll just explain that a little bit.
HollyG: Yeah, good point. Yes, keep going.
Jodie: People are looking for connecting with other people, and getting to know locals, and having an experience which is unique. I think that that mindset needs to change when it comes to traditional accommodation that might be used to people booking online, and then turning up at the front desk, and having a transaction that tells them about the showers and maybe some details, but actually doesn’t open people’s hearts to connect with other people.
I think if we can … If people can see that opportunity to remove some of those biases, or barriers, or perceptions about customer service and actually just be more authentic, I think we will see a transformation. There are plenty of opportunities to everybody. It just depends on how we view the situation.
HollyG: Yeah. No, I think that’s a … It’s a really good explanation and a really good point, and I know that that has been a real movement. I was at a large hotel chain conference last week, and they were talking about how they’re really starting to individualise the way that they’re marketing their properties based on the characteristics of the local community and what is offered in that local area. For me, coming from regional tourism, I’m like, “Yeah, duh. That’s what we’ve sort of been doing for quite a while because you sort of have to,” but I think that this idea of really tapping into the local community is getting a little bit more mainstream.
Also, the other thing that’s come up quite a lot lately is … and in a few previous episodes is around the fact that as tourism destinations, we’ve often forgotten to include the locals in our marketing plans and in our marketing activities. In fact, they can be such a significant part of activities, and we really need to have them on board. I guess it fits in quite well with that too.
Jodie: You’re right, Holly. I think the announcement at the Airbnb Open of the new Trips platform that has unique experiences and also, where people can stay in homes, but also, experience places, and this is where I think there are huge opportunities for local businesses whether it’s in regional tourism or even in suburban areas that might not normally have a large number of visitors come and stay, but it’s those local places whether it’s a unique barber, or if it’s an interesting grocery shop where people from a certain cultural group go to get all of their ingredients, or places that have an experience that they’re offering that if you walked past, you might not know about it.
Here’s an opportunity actually for Airbnb hosts to not just list those places on the guidebook which is an online reference for their guests, but actually maybe even those places or those secret spots stepping up and saying, “Hi. I want to be able to provide this unique experience, and reach out, and form more partnerships and alliances.”
I think the work that we’re doing with regional tourism organisations, particularly around strategy and governance, is also helping their boards and their committees see that their partnerships are different now. It’s not just the usual “who’s who” in the tourism industry we need to think about, and talk to, and partner with, but what are the other opportunities to partner with social enterprises? It could be local startups or co-working spaces, and thinking more broadly about that holistic needs of the guest or the visitor rather than just saying, “This is what we’ve got to offer.”
HollyG: Yeah, and it’s recognising also like things that we might take for granted in our local community that are just very day-to-day to us could be potentially something really interesting, and those things that help shape our community are what maybe we want to be sharing with our visitors.
Jodie: Absolutely, and we do that as part of our Airbnb hosting where we’re not just suggesting particular places for people to go, but I think it’s also about that authentic welcome. Our recent trip was in Mexico City, in Houston, and in LA. Mexico City, we were there for work purposes, and the client had us booked into a hotel, but it was quite interesting contrasting that with the local experiences of staying within a home, hosts, and particularly our host in LA who is a single mom with two kids and who welcomed us in such a way that we actually felt like we are staying with a relative, but a good relative.
Not those ones that you want to just only stay one night and then leave because she genuinely cared, and she was really interested in what we’re doing. We got to meet some other guests who were staying there for the Airbnb Open. Our whole outlook on LA completely changed because we got to know local, and we felt confident and save to navigate our way around.
I think the more the broader tourism industry connects people with people and helps their staff in training and development put down some of those barriers and actually get to know each other and be a little bit vulnerable, I think the world will be a better place, and I know that that might sound a little bit idealistic, but Airbnb are really rapidly growing, and the new Trips platform will also include potentially I think flights as well. There was a lot of talk about that, other transport, but I think it is quite exciting.
“…the more the broader tourism industry connects people with people….and actually get to know each other and be a little bit vulnerable, I think the world will be a better place”
HollyG: Yeah. I think the philosophy behind it is very genuine and very good about like connecting people with people, and we know all of us that are in the travel industry, we know that it broadens our perspective, and we know that that connection is really important, and we know we want people to have a physical journey and an emotional or spiritual journey when they’re traveling, so I think the philosophy behind it is very real and … Yeah, and makes sense.
Jodie: You’re right, and I think that philosophy is there, but I think perhaps over time, people have lost touch with that. I think there are now opportunities for people to still offer quality safe experiences. I’m a big fan of checklists. We’re advocates for accreditation. There is a place for appropriate regulation, but I think we have to think more broadly about how we can make it happen rather than the barriers of why we can’t.
HollyG: Yeah. I guess that was … We’ve talked a lot about opportunities. I guess just quickly, is there things that destinations need to, I guess, watch out for?
Jodie: I think so. I think I’d describe it as … I’ll give you an example of some work we did previously with some local councils about the sharing economy. If you’re an Airbnb host, for example, and you’re trying to find information on a local council website about planning and any requirements there are with the local council, you’re going to use a particular range of search words that you’re familiar with. For example, you might say, “Airbnb hosting planning,” or, “Regulations sharing economy.”
Now, we tested this with five inner-city websites of local councils, and they hadn’t included any of these search words in any of their websites, so what the information they had was prescribed accommodation because that related to the regulations. I think the opportunities really are for regulators, whether they’re councils, whether they’re public land authorities, say national parks, whether it’s even vehicle regulators that they need to put themselves in the shoes of the person who’s searching for the information.
HollyG: Yeah, yeah. Another good point.
Jodie: I spoke recently at the Parliamentary Inquiry about short-term accommodation in New South Wales, and I was one of the expert witnesses. I said to them as well that part of the challenge is that a lot of the requirements are actually quite difficult to navigate for accommodation even for existing traditional accommodation, so rather than trying to regulate the heck out of Airbnb type accommodation, why don’t we actually look at it from a different point of view and say, “Actually, maybe it is time for us to deregulate, and reduce the red tape compliance, and actually make it more easy for people to comply with things as opposed to keeping on adding on extra fees and extra licenses, and extra bureaucracy that actually doesn’t add any value.”
I think just in summarising, organisations who are dealing with this new emerging types of tourism experiences need to think about it from their point of view and how they would search for information. Also, how can we make it more simple? I think I do know that a lot of small tourism businesses that have built quite well established [measures 00:19:18] in the cruise sector or even the conferences in incentive markets may feel a bit vulnerable about the Trips platform for Airbnb thinking, “Oh gosh, there’s going to be all these people who suddenly offer this sort of experiences that I do,” but I think their reputation and trust elements are already existing in platforms like TripAdvisor, and people need to get clever about how they transfer that information across so that people get a sense of what they’re offering and that it genuinely appears to be something unique and different, not a cookie-cutter type of experience.
HollyG: Yeah, yeah. Wow, it’s really interesting to talk to you about this, Jodie. I’m really glad that we had this conversation, and I think, as you say, there’s quite a lot to it. Yeah, once you … From a business perspective, or a council, or a destination, once you go down that path, there’s lots of elements that we need to consider, yeah, for what really is right for our destination in the markets that are coming and also just really looking to the future and how people are changing the way they travel or what sort of experiences they want to have, and we need to be always a step ahead of what the consumers are doing.
Jodie: You’re right, and one thing that was announced at the Airbnb Open in LA just recently was about Airbnb’s nondiscrimination policy and their commitment to inclusion and respect. I think this is actually quite an interesting angle about putting human rights, and equality, and equity into the forefront of our guests and our interactions with guests.
Many people would be familiar with anti-discrimination and equal opportunity, but I think for many, many years, that’s been something in the back of people’s mind that they think they … Hopefully, that nothing happens and they won’t get in trouble. I think Airbnb are now making a stand to say, “Actually, there is no room for people who don’t provide inclusive and respectful experiences,” and if they don’t agree to these terms and conditions as a host or a guest, then they can’t offer the accommodation and they can’t choose the accommodation.
Some hosts are actually quite angry about this because they feel that there is … A lot of people are already genuinely providing those inclusive and respectful experiences and not discriminating, so they feel like they’re being told to suck eggs. Actually, I think there are a lot of unconscious biases, and they might be things that people are not aware of about cultural identity, and gender, and disability that actually we need to be aware of and make sure that everybody is included.
HollyG: Yeah. I think it’s just about having that conversation, isn’t it? It’s bringing it to the forefront of our minds as you say and actually, them being brave enough to actually address those issues. Yeah, good on them.
Jodie: That’s right.
HollyG: Cool. Yeah. As I said, I think there’s probably lots of elements we could talk about, but I think we’ve got a lot of value out of this conversation, and I think it’s definitely food for thought for businesses or destinations wanting to plan what they’re doing in their transitions and working in an ever-changing tourism environment which we are now. Can you tell us a little bit about how and where people can find more about you and what you do?
Jodie: Absolutely, so people can connect with me online at jodiewillmer.com. That’s J-O-D-I-E-W-I-L-L-M-E-R.com. I’ll be happy to answer any questions anyone has. We also established a small consultancy business called “Guest Ready.” We’re moving now more towards the strategic planning and governance for non-profits. That’s the main area of focus, but there are some good resources online that I can direct people to as well.
HollyG: Yeah, great. Excellent. Are you up for the bonus question?
HollyG: Okay. Awesome. Okay, the bonus question. If you only had a $1,000 marketing budget, what would you spend it on?
Jodie: In light of us doing a podcast here, Holly, I think podcasts are a great way to go as part of marketing, the authentic information, and sharing that with people, and enabling people to have a platform to tell stories, so I think I would focus in on some high-quality equipment to do the podcasting like you have as well and upscale on how to do that, and then promote that using social media, particularly Facebook with some targeted ads.
HollyG: Now, what if you only had $100?
Jodie: $100? Hmm. I think I would choose an event like a conference or some sort of meeting that has my targeted people that I would like to talk to and network with them in a very genuine way, and then follow up with people directly as a result of going. A number of people get business cards and never do anything with it. I would spend my $100 to go to the event and maximise it to its fullest.
Tweet me with any comments or feedback @hollygalbraith or email is good too holly (at) hollyg.com.au
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