A remote mountain ridge run accessed via helicopter or playing apiarist for a day are just two new Queenstown experiences on offer through Airbnb’s new Trips platform.
Launched last week, the peer-to-peer accommodation provider added the Southern Lakes hotspot to the Experiences offer it revealed in November last year.
Queenstown was chosen as the twentieth global location and the first in New Zealand with more to follow as Airbnb’s strives to make Trips available in 51 cities globally by the end of the year. So far, 10 experiences are available in the resort town.
Tourism Ticker spoke to three newly anointed Airbnb Trips’ hosts on the day their previously top-secret activities went live.
Keen runner and Trustpower technician Andy Town organises a number of local running events through his company, TRAQ, and had been trying to drum up interest in a heli-trail run trip.
“I was already an accommodation host for Airbnb and we received an email from them asking if we knew anyone who might like to host an activity. I jumped at the chance thinking it would be a good way to get some traction for my idea.”
That was only two months ago and since then he has been working closely with Airbnb to refine the idea and get it market ready.
His ‘Helicopter Mountain Run’ sees guests picked up from Queenstown’s Skyline Gondola, transferred to the airport to jump in aviation company Over the Top’s choppers to travel into the private Ben Lomond Station.
From there you lace up your running shoes for a two hour run back to the top of the gondola where you can treat yourself to a beer or wine before the ride down concludes the four-hour trip.
At $495 per person, Town has significant costs built into his price, the largest of which is chartering the helicopter, which costs around $1000 per flight.
Airbnb also takes a decent chunk – 20% – significantly more than the 3% they take from Airbnb accommodation hosts.
Town didn’t disclose his forecast margin but made clear the trip couldn’t happen unless he had four people booked in and “I only make cream if I have five.”
Lomond Station owners John and Ginny Foster, who Town already knew, also clip the ticket taking a landing fee as part of the deal.
The Helicopter Mountain Run is at the higher end of Airbnb’s average Experience price point. According to the company, as of last month, there were more than 800 Experiences on offer globally, with the typical price per person, across all types, put at US$91 ($130).
Town did initially think he would price it at around $300 but once he did the sums he realised it had to be closer to $500, not to mention that “it costs $500 to do anything in Queenstown”.
He plans initially to devote weekends and one weekday to the activity but given employee Trustpower has signaled redundancy is imminent in the next few years he’d like to transition to make it a full-time job.
For Terra Sancta assistant winemaker Scott Aliprandi, “its more of a hobby at the moment” and is not something he ever expects to be doing full-time.
Aliprandi’s Winemaker’s World will take visitors to three vineyards in Arrowtown, Gibbston Valley, and Bannockburn– two with wineries – to learn about the winemaking process and have a hands-on experience, which will vary with the season.
Unlike Town, Aliprandi contacted Airbnb after seeing an advertisement for hosts on Facebook.
“I had this idea. People do vineyard tours but only cellar-door tours for tasting, there is nothing looking into the machinery and production of wine which is where I see my point of difference.”
After sending off an initial “mock tour” in writing to Airbnb he was brought on board and again spent a couple of months working with the group, which is heavily involved behind the scenes.
Unlike its accommodation provision where hosts complete their own listing, in the case of activities, Airbnb is much more hands-on, controlling what appears on its website and in terms of the trip itself.
Photos that aren’t up to scratch are returned with requests for better ones, with the promise that a professional photographer will be dispatched to help after the hosts take at least three tours.
This strategy is paying off according to Airbnb, which said that 91% of Experience bookings have been rated with five stars as of March.
Aliprandi is charging $295 a head and can take up to four people on one trip. His costs include 4WD hire of $150 per outing, lunch and winetasting, so he figures that a two person trip should cost him $250- $300 dollars and let him pocket the $300-odd balance.
If it goes well and he buys a suitable vehicle instead of having to hire one, the pay-off improves considerably – as long as he keeps what his guests eat and drink in check.
He doesn’t have to pay the vineyards he visits a fee and likewise if his guests buy wine on their visit he doesn’t get a cut.
While Aliprandi is keen to demystify the winemaking process, fellow Airbnb host, Nick Cameron, is looking to do the same thing around bees.
The third generation apiarist is signed up to host a $99 “Be a beekeeper” trips, which will have different itineraries depending on the weather.
“At the moment I am just looking at the forecast and then offering tours on the days when the weather looks ok, but over spring and summer we should be going seven days a week.”
The experience will educate visitors through a “Bees 101” session before they put on bee suits and gloves to work an active beehive, with a honey tasting to round off the two-hour time slot.
For Cameron, the direct costs associated with a tour is minimal but he has made a huge investment in his honey business, Tiny Fury, since he started with just one hive 13 years ago.
He said it costs $10,000 to set up each site and $1000 for a “good hive”, and he is “streaking up to 100 hives now”, which sees him spend half his working week on the business.
Although he hasn’t taken tours on a commercial basis before now, he always kept a couple of extra bee suits in the car so has informally hosted a “hell of a lot of people”.
Cameron said has been duly impressed with Airbnb who he said have had a lot of input and insight into his “Be a beekeeper” trip.
As well as the “hundreds of emails” he has exchanged with HQ he has met Airbnb representative three times in Queenstown.
This included taking Airbnb Trips lead, Alex Constantinides, and Australia and New Zealand general manager, Sam McDonagh, on a taster of his experience.
Another meeting was a group session where the new hosts presented their proposition and got feedback from each other and a handful of Airbnb employees.
The company is making a huge investment in its Trips offer, which follows its ground-breaking accommodation platform that operates in 191 countires worldwide.
And it is not expected to stop here.
During a recent talk at the New York Stock Exchange, chief executive Brian Chesky said he believed Airbnb’s core product, Homes, will account for less than half of the company’s total revenue someday.
He also said that by 2021, the majority of what Airbnb offers as a business “will be the new things that we are doing as of 2017 on.”
As to whether it has been a significantly accretive addition to Airbnb’s portfolio, it’s too soon to say, but according to travel intelligence publisher Skift the early signs seem fairly positive.
It quoted a recent report issued by Raymond James research analysts that concluded the following:
“Beyond social benefits from hyper-personalized, more intimate experiences (e.g., memories, new friends), Trips simultaneously generates brand value (both through word of mouth and repeat usage) and opens up additional monetization paths, thus benefiting long-term margins and free cash flow.
In our latest analysis of Experiences, we observe that:
1) supply has increased ~38% since its debut, 2) the growth has been driven by Single Experiences, and 3) this growth in supply and shift in mix drove an average price decline of ~36% in a cohort of six markets (~49% of listings). Net, Airbnb’s seen a promising start in one area (supply) and success going forward will be measured by conversion (which, as expected, appears to be very nascent).”
Net, Airbnb’s seen a promising start in one area (supply) and success going forward will be measured by conversion (which, as expected, appears to be very nascent).”