Building a Tours and Activities Business on the Back of Airbnb

 

It’s not just hosts who are riding Airbnb’s coattails and creating businesses. Small tour operators are working with hosts to draw attention to their activities and Airbnb is quick to help them do that to give it a neighborhood-friendly image.

— Dan Peltier

Airbnb guests in New York City’s Harlem neighborhood, like anywhere, receive a variety of welcomes and amenities during their stay, though one increasingly common denominator these uptown guests find in their rooms is a gift bag from a local bike tour company.

Beyond travel startups that arrange cleaning services or offer pricing analytics for Airbnb hosts, tours and activities startups that work with guests have also grown out of the home-share company’s model.

These include I Bike Harlem, which offers bike tours of Harlem that expose travelers to the history and food of the neighborhood. Less than a year old, it’s already developed numerous relationships in the local Airbnb community, and it helps that founder Maxine Daniels is a host herself.

Daniels didn’t found I Bike Harlem specifically because of Airbnb but the growing number of hosts and guests in the neighborhood boosted its visibility during its first summer season. Harlem is one of New York’s most popular neighborhoods for Airbnb, owing to its position as one of the more iconic neighborhoods as well as hotel companies’ slowness moving into the area (Starwood’s Aloft Harlem being one of the few exceptions).

She knows many of the more than 1,000 Airbnb hosts in Harlem and held a reception for hosts at her shop earlier this year to introduce them to her tours. Daniels hopes hosts will give I Bike Harlem T-shirts and information pamphlets to their guests.

Airbnb originally approached Daniels a few months ago when the company heard about the type of experience she wanted to create for tourists visiting Harlem.

“I had a conversation with Airbnb and they really liked what I was trying to do because they were looking for local businesses in New York City that want to keep tourists in neighborhoods, and they decided to interview me and feature me and I Bike Harlem on their blog,” said Daniels.

“Airbnb sends out a monthly newsletter to their network of hosts in the neighborhood and they always include I Bike Harlem in their newsletter, asking hosts to make sure they invite their guests to take tours with us and they also do social media posts promoting us. Most of the people I’ve had on my tours so far have found us on either TripAdvisor or Airbnb and I’m still figuring out a way to track which hosts are funneling the most guests to my tours. So far the hosts have been very helpful and point their guests in my direction if they’re looking for something local to do in the neighborhood.”

Daniels doesn’t pay for any advertising on Airbnb. Although hosts can promote on the site tours and activities they’ll personally offer guests, tour operators don’t have that ability.

Daniels’ decision to start a bike tour company coincides with a trend. A recent Skift podcast episodediscussed the steady rise in popularity of bikes as an efficient way for tourists to see and experience a city, paling in comparison to bus tours or even walking.

“Harlem is Manhattan’s largest neighborhood and biking is a great way to cover a lot of ground and get you close to the sites and people that make it special,” said Daniels. “The Airbnb traveler is someone who’s very adventurous and biking is obviously a great combination for that.”

Airbnb’s Work With Neighborhoods

No doubt keen to show it has a positive impact on small neighborhoods, Airbnb wants to work with community businesses and organizations that will enhance that perception.

Harlem Park to Park helps promote small businesses like I Bike Harlem and hopes to partner with Airbnb next year on some events it sponsors that showcase area restaurants and shops.

“Airbnb told me Harlem, along with the Upper West Side and parts of the Bronx, are their fastest-growing markets in New York City and that it had 220,000 room nights in Harlem alone in 2014,” said Nikoa Evans-Hendricks, founder of Harlem Park to Park. “That is staggering to me and it would be great for our organization to work with Airbnb because they have hundreds of thousands of guests staying in the area and could let them know what we offer.”

Evans-Hendricks said tourism spending is growing in Harlem, particularly in retail. Restaurants, too, are benefitting from tourists looking for signature Harlem dishes such as chicken and waffles. While she’s unsure if Airbnb guests should get most of the credit, it’s likely they’re playing a leading role.

Airbnb’s blog says its guests spent $18.1 million in Harlem last year, $9.7 million of which went to local businesses.

Meanwhile, the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce announced its own partnership with Airbnb that’ll involve hosts and small businesses brainstorming ways to keep tourist spending in Brooklyn.