Paul Nursey

Airbnb Experience a ‘risk’ to mainstream tourism

Local organizations are expressing concern about a new service by Airbnb that allows tourists to book experiences with local “experts."

Local organizations are expressing concern about a new service offered by Airbnb that allows tourists to book experiences with local “experts” in the city.

In addition to the service Airbnb currently offers of allowing people to lease or rent short-term vacation rentals, tourists can now book experiences “designed and led by some of the most interesting people out there,” according to the website. Tourists can search experiences based on a variety of passions such as sports, nature, entertainment, food and arts, and then book the experience with “local experts” of hosts.

Some experiences include camping under the stars and getting surf lessons from a “highly experienced waterman,” exploring Havana’s music scene with an award-winning vocalist, and cruising the streets of Miami with the co-founder of the local cycling community.

Tourism Victoria said the service has started percolating Greater Victoria in recent months.

Paul Nursey, president and CEO of Tourism Victoria, said because the service is relatively new to the region, it’s hard to say what impact it will have on the local sector, but expressed concern about a potential lack of insurance and the safety of such services. He said in Victoria people could potentially offer a host of tours related to kayaking, site-seeing or whalewatching.

“For us, that opens up all sorts of questions like insurance, safety. These are private people taking people for tours in their private cars, private people taking tours in their boats, what if they get too close to the whales? It’s basically a risk to the entire mainstream tourism industry,” Nursey said, adding he’s most concerned about Victoria’s reptuation for safety.

“If we have folks that aren’t trained, don’t have proper insurance, don’t have consumer protection regulations, what does that all mean? We don’t know the answers yet. What if there was a terrible accident from an amateur, who wasn’t regulated, wasn’t insuranced, what would that do to our brand?”

Victoria city councillor and liason to Tourism Victoria Chris Coleman said he’s heard of such experiences as well and is concerned operators will sidestep practices for consumer protection and taxes to operate their businesses.

“This is one that is seen to be Airbnb, or short-term vacation rentals, as an opportunity, in the same way that Uber and Lyft are offering alternatives to the taxi service,” Coleman said. “But then there’s the next step. People who say, ‘you’ve rented my room for a couple of nights, if you’re interested in doing other things, I have some contacts’. Who makes sure that the boat owner is accredited, that the boat has the proper lifejacket requirements? We have to turn our minds to those things.”

According to Lindsey Scully, spokesperson for Airbnb, the company has a trips vetting protocol to become an experience host, which includes an identity authentication process and a ‘click to confirm’ so hosts are aware of the appropriate rules and know they must follow them.

For more high-risk activities, such as a motorcycle ride or helicopter trip, Airbnb’s Trip Safety Council will review the experience, hosts must send copies of the licenses needed to operate, and must confirm they are either covered by Airbnb’s $1 million liability insurance coverage, or that they have other applicable coverage.

“Their (a hosts) request must qualify to get listed, meeting the high quality bar we’ve set, including more strenuous vetting and license checks when available for high-risk activities,” Scully said. “In the rare event that an experience doesn’t go as expected, we help protect eligible hosts and their property up to $1 million through our Experience Protection Insurance program.”

Nursey said they aretrying to get ahead of the curve and through its Transportation Destination Management Committee will begin a conversation about what the service means for the local industry and come up with “common sense” solutions within the next few months.