Airbnb Experiences recently launched in Japan which allows hosts to create experiences, or activities that they can share as a tour guide for travelers visiting their city or town. It provides a great opportunity to make some side money while having a bit of fun doing what you enjoy. For now it’s available only in Osaka and Tokyo but expanding to other cities quickly and ripe for early adopters.

There’s a booming multi-billion dollar tourism market in Japan. Japanese Prime Minister Abe’s push to attract more foreigners before the Tokyo 2020 Olympics has stimulated the industry to new heights. He wants to bring in 40 million tourists by 2020 which is quite an audacious goal, but progress thus far has been impressive. The number of inbound tourists has tripled in the past 5 years. In July 2017 alone there were something like 2.6 million people who visited Japan. Numbers are going up. More than half of these come from Asian travelers — China, Korea, the Philippines, Taiwan and Hong Kong. The remaining half come from English speaking countries like the UK, US, Australia, Canada, and German.

There are several initiatives the government is pushing to make inbound travel easier. For example, they are subsidizing airlines to make it cheaper to travel. I saw a flight from LA to Nagoya for something like $400 round trip. That’s pretty darn cheap. Other initiatives are around building infrastructure and outbound marketing led by Japanese tourist agencies.

Airbnb Experiences has come at the right time.

What is Airbnb Experiences?

Airbnb Experiences allows you to host unique activities in your local city or town for travelers passing through.

The business makes sense as a logical addition to the existing home-sharing business. When travelers come to Tokyo and are staying in someone’s apartment, they want to see the local sights. The host is not always able to take them around the city and play ‘tour guide.’ Travelers get stressed trying to plan everything themselves.

Airbnb Experiences allows you to take people on a special tour to show them something that they wouldn’t otherwise be able to do. This is a key point to the value proposition — it has to be “unique” and you have to be “qualified” in the activity.

For example, if you are a wine connoisseur, you can take people on a tour of 3 of your favorite wine bars. And you get paid for it. There are of course quality standards that Airbnb upholds, so you have to provide an experience that’s worth the money. Ultimately users will give you ratings that will determine your success and likelihood of future bookings on the platform.

Like their home sharing business, there are hosts and guests. You host the activity or “experience” and the guest books it online. The platform works pretty similarly. There is a rating system and Airbnb takes an 8% cut from bookings. The good thing is that it operates separately from the sharing business, so you don’t need to have been a previous host on Airbnb. You can just go sign up on their website and create a profile.

Airbnb Experiences is new globally and just getting started in Japan. There are only a few dozen or so listings in Tokyo so far, so it’s a great time to start an experience. You could easily do one experience a week and earn 15,000-30,000 yen+ in side income for a day’s work. Not bad. Let’s run through the process.

Application Process

Airbnb makes it very easy for hosts to sign up. They provide lots of guides, tutorials and examples that you can use to create your tour. You don’t need any particular artistic flare to do this. Here is the link to get started.

Follow the step-by-step instructions on the left hand side. It should take you about 30 minutes or so to create.

A few tips on this:

The ‘about you’ page should feature a bio about why you are qualified to do the tour and what inspires you about your activity. If you are doing a ‘wine tour’ then you should mention you favorite wine and the story of how you fell in love (with wine). You get the gist.

The “where we’ll meet” is not the final destination, it’s where you are actually going to pick up the guests. Pick a place that is central and easy to find like Hachiko.

Consider the group size carefully. Would you be able to accommodate a larger group of people? Would you have to change anything about the experience or would it detract from its intimacy? An experience with 10 people might be a little bit too much. Aim for 1-6.

The Approval Process

The approval process takes anywhere from 2-3 weeks after creating your experiences page online. It is manually checked by the Airbnb staff in Japan. You can speed this up by providing really high quality photos of your experiences.

There are three main points for you to consider that will determine whether or not you are “selected.” I imagine as more people get on the platform these become more and more important. Eventually the competition will increase and it will likely become more difficult to get approved.

#1 Establishing credibility. How and why are you qualified to run this tour? This doesn’t mean you have to run a business related to your activity, it can just be a hobby you are really fond of. For example, perhaps you are a die hard sushi fan. Or you know all of the hidden spots in Tokyo to find vintage clothes. Whatever it is, make it very clear in your title and profile.

#2 A coherent tour with a cherry on top. There has to be a clear schedule and mapped out hour-by-hour. Seriously, treat this like you are a professional tour guide and plan it out on a precise schedule. Make sure to have a plan B and plan C. The “cherry on top” refers to something “special” about your tour that you can impart to your guests. Some people will print out a photo they took or give them a local gift that they can keep to remember the experience. You are going the extra mile here.

#3 Uniqueness of your tour. Are there tons of other people doing this? If so, it’s unlikely to be approved. There has to be one unique aspect to your tour that no one else is doing. Alternatively, you could take an existing tour and put a new spin on it. For example, there are tons of different locations where you can do yoga and there are different types of yoga. In this case, you could use location and style as the differentiator.

Choosing an Experience

I freelance as a drone pilot in Japan so this was relatively easy for me to come up with. There was no “drone experience” in Tokyo so I made the first one. My proposal tour was to go out and fly drones near Okutama and eat lunch at a near by cafe. No one else was doing it so the approval process was surprisingly easy, but it still took 3 weeks before I could start the tour.

Ask yourself: What do I like and what would I show my friends if they were visiting? That should give you a clue.

Often times we get so accustomed to our environment we lose touch with the wackiness that exists in Japan. What did you find most interesting or amusing when you first got to Japan? I personally enjoyed going to funky bars like “Kagaya’s” in Shinbashi. I also enjoyed lounging and people-watching at hipster cafes that my Japanese friends would recommend.

Don’t worry too much about whether or not the experience is going to be the best in the world. If you enjoy it, I am sure there some people out there who will really like it too.

Here are ten ideas to get you started:

  1. Book nerd. If you know all of the English book shops in Tokyo, you could do a book tour.
  2. History buff. How about a history-themed tour based on a certain era of Japan (fun fact: the Amazon Tokyo headquarters used to be a prison and execution grounds for criminals 200 years ago).
  3. Architecture lover. Show people your favorite 5 buildings in Japan and explain the architects who made them possible.
  4. Coffee fanatic. Take guests around to 5 different cafes to try the best coffees. Like the butter coffee shop in Yoyogi.
  5. Karaoke: Yes you can make this into an experience. Go show guests how to have a proper night out screaming their lungs out.
  6. Social impact. If you have a cause that you are supporting in Japan, whether that’s tsunami relief, homelessness, or whatever it may be, consider doing an educational tour to share some of these issues with your guests.
  7. Yoga. Go to Yoyogi park and do any sport or exercise you do regularly. You can teach others.
  8. Music. There are tons of cool hidden jazz bars and record shops in Tokyo. Go record-hunting.
  9. Fashion expert. Fashion is one of the main reasons a lot of Asian tourists come here. Take them shoe shopping at your favorite spots.
  10. Flee Market Guru: There are tons of great flee markets in Tokyo. Pick one and make it a morning tour. Show them how to negotiate in Japanese.

You can scour around for tours in other cities that are more developed like New York or Sydney. Many of them are not being done yet in Tokyo so take inspiration from them and mold them to your own style!

Lastly, make your tours simple with an over-arching theme. Including too many activities within one experience will make it less likely that guests will book. For example if you are doing a bicycle tour, don’t mix it with bungee jumping, sake, onsens and eating at the best chocolate shop in Tokyo. If they want to do those things, they will do them separately.

Pricing

The standard rule of thumb is that when you are first starting your experience you should price it relatively low. You want to encourage people to sign up for your experience so that they can leave reviews. Once it gains popularity and you get bookings over several weeks, then you can adjust and increase the price. You can change the price any time.

Most hosts will pay for the expenses during the tour. In fact, guests expect this. Make sure to factor this into your tour price! This is to encourage a smooth and stress-free experience for the guests. Plus you don’t want to spend time coordinating money and getting change, buying tickets, etc. Just do it all yourself and factor it into the price you charge for the tour. In your description of the tour you can include “I will provide…” and list out what the guests will be getting.

Extra Tips for Success

#1. Always have a plan B and plan C. You can expect that guests are going to be late or that you will miss the scheduled bus or train. Also what if that restaurant you were going to is shut down? Whatever it may be, make sure to have a contingency plan.

#2. Share your trip. If you want to get more people to book your experience then as soon as it’s published, blast it out all over social media — instagram, facebook, twitter and so on. Airbnb is a good platform but it won’t necessarily get bookings. You have to put some effort into gaining users.

#3. Host cancellation. The guests will be pretty upset if you suddenly change or cancel the tour within a couple of days of putting it online. Airbnb will penalize you (just a warning) and if you do it a couple of times then they might suspend your account temporarily. However, if there are situations that are outside of your control, like the weather or catching a bad cold, then just give Airbnb notice ahead of time and they’ll understand.

#4 Guest cancellation. If guests cancel within 24 hours of your tour then you will still be given the full 100% of the commissions.

#5 Welcome chat. When someone books your tour you should give an extra welcoming touch using Airbnb’s messenger service. Share a bit of omotenashiand tell them you’re excited to have them on the tour

#6 Send a reminder to the guests. Within 24 hours of your tour send them a friendly note explaining the meet up location and your contact information.

#7 Magical moments. Airbnb really encourages you to include some sort of gift as part of your experience. Something that is memorable, whether it’s a physical gift or a “surprise” part of the tour. Not something that deviates from the tour, but just that extra touch of

#8 Ask for reviews. Whenever you finish your tour immediately ask guests to leave a review. The faster they do this the sooner it’s online, and the sooner other people can see them and can book your experience.

#9 Lastly, don’t be afraid to ask for feedback. Airbnb will talk you directly to help create your tour, so ask them how to make your experience more interesting. Also ask the guests after the experience for their private feedback.

Good luck and happy hosting!

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