As many travelers continue to self-isolate in order to help stop the spread of the coronavirus, virtual travel has become one of the best ways to see and experience the world. As a result, Airbnb decided to migrate its popular Experiences concept—which connects travelers with local experts—from an in-person program to a 100% virtual travel platform called Online Experiences. Now, entrepreneurs from around the globe are pivoting to online sessions where they can share their passions with travelers anywhere.
Want to learn how to mix up sangrias from a group of drag queens in Portugal? How about meditating with sleepy sheep in the United Kingdom? Or perhaps you want to dance tango in Argentina, make your own ricotta in Italy or learn about the dogs of Chernobyl? Not only is the new concept giving people an opportunity to explore far-flung places and learn more about other cultures from the safety of their own home, the new virtual platform is providing enterprising entrepreneurs with welcome new revenue streams. In the month since the platform launched, some of Airbnb’s top Online Experiences hosts have become instant success stories, with top earners generating over $20,000—while one particularly charismatic host and “her” friends have ranked in over $130,000.
“By creating this we felt like we were addressing the biggest challenges that we’ve got at the moment,” says Catherine Powell, head of Airbnb Experiences. “One is that we’re isolated and we’re giving people the chance to connect. And two, there’s more unemployment than ever and we’re offering people an opportunity to earn an income.”
Airbnb currently has 300 Online Experiences on offer, with more to come. According to Powell, Airbnb’s plan is to keep the new virtual tours going even when in-person travel comes back. “I see there being a real synergy between the two because it’s not seasonal,” says Powell. “When it’s high season and there are all the travelers, the locals can lead Experiences. But when it’s low season and there is less demand to do the in-person, that’s when they can offer the online version.”
So what does it take to be a virtual host and how did these virtual entrepreneurs turn their in-person businesses into overnight online success stories? We caught up with a handful of inspiring hosts around the globe to get their tips and insights, as well as a sneak peek into their fun tours.
Pedro: Making Sangria in Portugal
The wildly popular “Sangria and Secrets with Drag Queens,” hosted by Pedro and his six roommates, has earned over $130,000 in one month. These hardworking queens teach guests the secrets to the perfect Portuguese sangria recipe seven days a week, with multiple showtimes each day.
How I Got My Start: I started hosting with my home on Airbnb. When I first saw Airbnb Experiences, I wanted to give that form of hosting a try as well. I first started doing cooking classes. Before this, I had my own food media production company where I would film and photograph delicious recipes. My first Experience on Airbnb was actually bringing people to my food studio so they could see the backstage and have a cooking class with me.
From In-Person to Online: I was doing my live experiences in “Drag Taste.” Our location is right in the center of Lisbon and is where the magic happens every day. It’s world of glitter, wigs and the best food ever! We are making Online Experiences in exactly the same place. There are some benefits to hosting online. You still need to be on time, have all the ingredients ready, makeup on point and so on. But if there is something you need to adjust discreetly, you can just turn one foot to the side and do it. The lens will not catch it. From cleaning your teeth or even removing your high heels for a bit, if our guests don’t see it, it didn’t happen.
The Money: We’ve sold over 5,000 tickets in the first month. Revenue for the first month was around $150k. We were a bit surprised, as I was hoping to get at least half of those numbers. We do it every single day, four to seven sessions every day. We just passed 1,000 reviews in the first 30 days—which is crazy!
Inspiring Takeaways: In the beginning I was scared. As the airports closed, my world was kind of devastated and the bank account was getting low. I told my entire team that I was not going to fire anyone and together we were going to find a solution. Everyone brainstormed, and we made it. We truly believe in what we were trying to achieve. Together as a family and a team, we recreated our entire business and today we are the biggest in the world doing it. I never imagined I would be able to raise everyone’s salaries in a time like this.
Makenzi: Tarot Readings in Austin, Texas
Mak, host of “Tarot Reading with Mak Jagger,” has earned over $14,000 through virtual sessions that are part interactive tarot workshop, part personal intuitive reading and part therapeutic group spiritual counseling.
How I Got My Start: I began hosting a little over two years ago. I took a New Year’s trip to Havana, Cuba, which basically shuts down for the holiday. There is no internet access in Havana and I had read all the books I brought already. I was very bored and had nothing to do but read tarot, and I ended up creating a business plan. What began as a side hustle through Airbnb quickly became my main gig. At the end of 2018, I was out earning my day job and having a much better time hosting the experience, and other opportunities in the world of tarot were beginning to pop up left and right as well. I made the decision to open my intuitive consulting business in early 2019, and have been working at that full time ever since.
From In-Person to Online: I was hosting two live experiences (roughly 12 happy hours a week, and a 1 on 1 experience at my shop in Austin, Texas). However, in part due to meeting people from other parts of the world in the live experiences, a lot of my business was already virtual, so it was basically a seamless transition.
The Money: I’ve made about $11,000 through Airbnb Experiences since April 2020. I as a bit surprised, but March-May is high tourist season in Austin, so I was basically just recouping what my projected earnings would have been pre-pandemic.
Inspiring Takeaways: This pandemic sucks, but in a lot of ways, it may also be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for you in which you’re free to pursue something you’re truly passionate about. Embrace the free fall and make it work for you. Don’t work against it because that’s just working against yourself. Go with it and, in the spirit of Austin, Texas, keep it weird.
Luca and Lorenzo: Cooking in Tuscany
Luca and Lorenzo, co-hosts of “Our Family Pasta Recipe,” honor their grandmothers’ Florentine recipes and share them from their home six days a week. In 30 days, they’ve earned over $20,000.
How We Got Our Start: We both worked in the fashion industry until we faced a midlife crisis about four years ago. Our jobs were great, but stressful, and at that time we felt the need to chase what we loved the most—which was making connections with people by teaching how to make pasta like our nonne taught us when we were kids. A friend told us that Airbnb was launching Experiences, some months before we founded our small company, Lovexfood, where we offered cooking experiences based on sharing family recipes. We thought, “What better chance to promote our experience than on the Airbnb platform?” Since we quit our careers in the fashion field, it became immediately our full-time job.
From In-Person to Online: Our guests used to come to our house in the Tuscan countryside in the hills close to Florence and they loved enjoying the view and nosing around our property—and most of all, the human contact. Converting all of those things into a virtual experience was tough in the beginning, then we realized that the world was changing, but not us. We do what we used to do before, still making connections, just in a different way.
The Money: We are still surprised [by the money], but we work really hard and absolutely we want to support the Airbnb community, which we feel part of.
Inspiring Takeaways: First of all, like everything, have passion for what you do. It’s not just a chance to make money. The world is changing and evolving and this is a great opportunity to keep on doing what you love, even in a bad moment like it is now. We learned something from our guests and, most of all, this expression: “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” This is the time to make lemonade.
Meagan: Fun With Goats in the Catskills
Meagan, host of “Remote Rescue Goats,” has earned over $10,000 so far for her animal sanctuary in the Catskills Mountains of New York. Since early April, she and her goats have delighted families, teaching kids and kids at heart fun facts about these quirky farm animals.
How I Got My Start: I’ve been caring for rescue goats for more than seven years, supporting and collaborating with sanctuaries such as Woodstock Farm Sanctuary, Animal Farm Foundation and Farm Sanctuary. I’m also a creative arts therapist and child life specialist who had made a career working with chronically ill children in the NYC area. I was also an Airbnb home host for about a year before Airbnb announced their Animal Experiences launch in the fall of 2019. Since a major draw to our home rental was our animals, I thought it could potentially make for an interesting in-person experience. Within a few days, I had dozens of bookings and it seemed to get even more popular as time went on.
From In-Person to Online: I had been running in-person experiences until March 2020 when all Airbnb in-person experience were suspended. It was challenging to transition to a virtual experience between learning the technology and considering how to engage individuals through a screen, but with the support of Airbnb and adjustments made based on feedback, I seem to have developed a recipe for success. I was also able to structure a virtual experience that seems to resonate with guests from around the world. Airbnb has been a part-time gig until recently, but may soon become a full-time job due to both the potential COVID-19 related changes to my employment and the success I have had with Airbnb.
The Money: I was able to make $8K in a little over a month. I am still in shock with how successful this venture has been. We are looking forward to building a new barn for our animals this Fall with proceeds and perhaps being able to rescue more animals in the future.
Inspiring Takeaways: The world is in crisis and people are desperate to connect with each other and experience the world as they had before. We are all learning how to cope and transition into a new normal. These virtual experiences have allowed me to connect with people from all over the world, and I’ve tried to give them an escape from quarantine life, bring a laugh or a smile during this time of crisis, teach about the value of rescue work and the amazing creatures I am fortunate enough to care for, inspire them in some small way.
Lucie and David: Plague Walk in Prague
Lucie and David, co-hosts of “Follow a Plague Doctor Through Prague,” take guests on a virtual walk around Prague that follows the footsteps of Dr. Alexander Schamsky, an unknown Czech hero who fought the plague in 1713. This unique look back at an eerily similar time has fascinated guests around the world and earned over $20,000 to date.
How I Got My Start: I have a background as a social worker and I work in the coaching sector supporting people in leadership positions to inspire and lead their teams. I started to offer my first tours on Airbnb about three years ago. I enjoyed the history walks and theater play at the same time. With Airbnb I found a great community where I could share my passion in a personal way. My hard work I put into creating such tours was always the most appreciated by Airbnb customers. No wonder I moved almost all my business to Airbnb over the past years. Now, writing tours and medieval role play as a city guide was also always a passion to keep my work life balance. I am a big fan of earning my income with activities I am passionate about and I truly enjoy.
From In-Person to Online: I always did medieval tours and theater plays since I studied 15 years ago. Moving now to virtual tours was an interesting experience but not a difficult step. I like change by expanding my comfort zone. But I also had people who helped, believed in me and gave me confidence in my ideas. I wanted to offer online tours already a year ago for people who are afraid to travel, who have not the money to come to Europe or are having barriers. But unfortunately I could not find any cooperation partner that time. I very much believe that the online experiences are something we can take positively from the times of crises, to create beautiful memories for people who can´t travel or have barriers.
The Money: I have made around $8,000 in a month now since I moved to the online version. Of course, this surprised me. But it also includes a lot of efforts, e.g. to react to lots of questions timely and to offer the tours during my local night times while my wife and our little baby sleep next door. I also rarely refuse a tour. With pleasure I host birthday and bachelor parties and team building events. I just did now 15 tours on one weekend. This is exhausting but gives also lots of energy back when seeing the reviews. I will start sharing my success with colleagues now by training them to co-host the experience and I will spend again more time with my family.
Inspiring Takeaways: The success and financial reward is a side effect of doing what I truly value. Hence my advice is to become aware of WHY you are doing things and then be passionate about WHAT you are doing. Dream big and walk the talk, regardless what other people say. Focus on the human side and help people to connect in these times of uncertainty and affinity distance. But don’t do this all on your own—look for people that really support you by giving you positive but also critical feedback. And avoid those that just contribute to anxiety and fear (of failure). Refuse what is useless and absorb what is useful.
Graciela: Cooking Tacos in Mexico City
From her cooking studio in Mexico City, Graciela shares practical recipes that you can follow at home in “Cook Mexican Street Tacos with a Pro Chef.” This last month, she made approximately $4,900.
How I Got My Start: Bringing people together through food is my passion. Ten years ago, I started to teach cooking classes in my kitchen; after eight years we were finally able to open a cooking studio, where I run in-person experiences, welcoming people from all over the world. We tour the market together, cook traditional dishes and gather around Aura’s table. Right now, this is my full time job. I host four cooking experiences per day. Every class is very special as people open their homes, their kitchens and for 1.5 hours we travel together and cook.
From In-Person to Online: I hosted four in-person experiences: “Authentic Mexican Cooking,” “Mastering Top Mexican Salsas,” “Street Food Tacos” and “Vegan Mexican.” After we took the hard decision to pause the experiences, I knew that I could not stop, first because after two weeks in lockdown, I missed so much my classes and more importantly because families depend of the success of our studio. So I started to research alternatives to go online as soon as possible. I choose the Taco Experience based on the universality of the ingredients. It was a challenge to start over a new way of thinking.
The Money: I wanted to share the joy of Mexican cooking to anyone interested in the world and I am grateful for the acceptance of the experience. Nobody at that point had a clear vision of the way the online experiences would behave as we are all living a very special moment of our lives. There is a lot of free content, free videos, free cooking classes so I started at $9 person to open the market. I wanted people to take the chance of trying online experiences. It was all about creating a new market in the middle of uncertainty. Several families depend on this experiences, directly or indirectly so being able to support them and to give them the opportunity to take care and stay in their homes means a lot to us.
Inspiring Takeaways: Always find what makes you unique and share it with the world. You need to love what you do and have fun while doing it. Share your passion and uniqueness with the world. Keep it simple and universal.
— to www.forbes.com