Hotels might have precedent and city ordinance on their side, but peer-to-peer rental app Airbnb continues to make surprise wins with innovation. Just months after New Times reported that Airbnb and similar short-term rental services operating in Miami Beach had been hit with $1.6 million in fines since March, Airbnb announced that Miami would be a market for a headline-making product rollout. It’s called Trips, and it will expand Airbnb out of peer-to-peer accommodation rentals and into the realm of tour and activity booking. Its mechanism is to provide leisure travelers with connections to local expert guides and specialized experiences. And so far, the locals are loving it.
“They are actually paying local creatives for being local and being creative,” says Nathaniel Sandler, New Times contributor and founding member of the mobile library Bookleggers. Because Sandler’s expertise is literary, he will offer his “slice of literary Miami” through Airbnb Trips. “We are going to go to bookstores, and I will show them Bookleggers and talk about books and writing… I feel like book nerds like to find other book nerds, so it should be good.”
Other local experts who have signed on for the Miami rollout include musician Virgo, who was featured in New Times’ recent "People "issue; and Cuci and Tony of electronica band Afrobeta. In fact, it was Cuci who connected Sandler with Airbnb. It looks like Airbnb, even in an expansion that might swallow the ground-tour industry, is sticking with one of its core practices: bringing on new product through word of mouth.
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And just as some people like to stay at an Airbnb rental not because of cost savings but for the “local feel” that staying in a house can lend, it seems like many travelers will gravitate to the ever-expanding network of Airbnb local experts and experiences because the offering is truly authentic — not handpicked by a hotel event team or hired by a larger tour operator. Also, in cities such as Miami where many people tend to feel left out of the loop — stuck on the wrong side of the velvet rope — this is a fix.
“A lot of people come to Miami and don't know how to use it,” Sandler says. “They leave Miami hungover and dejected, with accusations of the city being contrived and annoying.” While many apps and concierge services have promised to get people to all the right places, most simply can’t. They don’t provide the essential “in,” which might be as simple as connecting with a local friend or gathering with a group of like-minded potential friends. That is what Airbnb Trips does.
“This is a good way for people to find specific experiences they know they will like," Sandler says. "Plus, it’s directly supporting cool people.”