Home Sweet Airbnb: Company Takes Experiential Travel to New Level

Author: David McMillin       

Most conference organizers overload attendees with information — where to be, when to arrive, what to wear, who’s speaking, and more. At Airbnb Open, a conference held in Los Angeles on Nov. 17 to 19, the peer-to-peer hospitality company’s events team intentionally left most of those details blank for me on the second day. I had an address in Echo Park, the knowledge that pizza would be served, and the assumption that I would be sampling one of Airbnb’s Trips — the company’s recent move into the online travel landscape.

good-graeff-airbnb-feature“Today, you’re going to learn how to be in an indie rock band,” announced Brooke, a twenty-something California hipster and lead vocalist of indie-pop group Good Graeff, after I arrived in Echo Park — by Uber, of course — and knocked on the door.

I chuckled at the irony. Because I actually already know how to be in an indie rock band: For the past six years, I’ve been fronting my own trio, Fort Frances. And now, my alternate universes of writing about business events held in high-end properties and playing shows at dingy rock clubs were about to intersect in a living room in L.A.

Brooke and Brittany offer a three-day immersive Airbnb Trip experience called “How To Band.”  Also participating with me in a shortened version of the experience were a female journalist from Japan and a member of the Airbnb communications team. Our assignment involved writing a song together in less than three hours. Neither of my companions had ever played an instrument.


David McMillin, with Fort Frances

There are many lessons involved in being in an indie rock band, and some of them do not involve chords, rhythms, or melodies. And Brooke and Brittany introduced us to one of the basics: drinking in the afternoon. As we sipped beers, the two strummed ukuleles, and walked us through their approaches to songwriting.

Then piece by piece, we put together a bubbly song inspired by the California sunshine pouring through the windows. I’ve written hundreds of songs and spent many afternoons playing music, but Airbnb helped me check two new items off my being-in-a-band list. First, I learned to keep a proper beat on a full drum kit, which is something I had never done due to my focus on guitar and singing. And second, I learned to sing in a new language; we wrote the second verse of our song in Japanese. By the end of the first hour, we had shared plenty of smiles, had taken shots of Jack Daniel’s, and finished a song. This conference experience, so different from the typical set-in-stone itinerary with sessions to attend and speakers to meet, had completely surprised me.

After staying in Airbnb properties around the country, I’m already a fan of the platform, but the afternoon reinforced my respect for the model. Airbnb has made headlines for helping cash-strapped travelers find alternatives to more expensive hotels, but the company isn’t simply about shaving costs — it’s about connecting people and creating memories. When Brian Chesky, Airbnb’s CEO, unveiled Trips in his conference keynote the previous day, he highlighted that the new offering isn’t about technology. “The magic,” Chesky said, “is in the people. It’s all about immersing in local communities.”

The rest of the travel industry needs to pay attention to Airbnb’s approach. There is an emerging generation of conference attendees, business travelers, and leisure guests who aren’t looking to visit top-rated tourist attractions or sit on sightseeing buses. With Airbnb’s Trips — an innovation that its PR team has dubbed “the biggest news in Airbnb history” — the company offers travelers opportunities to explore the hidden side of destinations. And, from learning ancient Japanese pottery traditions to training with a samurai artist to exploring craters and caves, they do it alongside local experts who feel more like trusted friends than typical tour guides.

And as Airbnb Trips pop up in more places — the program is starting in just 12 cities — I expect to see plenty of attendees make post-conference plans that may not be listed on a CVB website or found on TripAdvisor’s list of best activities. I’ll be one of them.

Interested in learning more about how Trips will change travel? Check out a video and browse some of the experiences. And stay tuned: I’ll be writing about how Airbnb Open is redefining what it means to bring people together face-to-face in the February issue.

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