Utah, Airbnb Partnership Could Equate to Big Bucks for Natives

If someone told you that you could make up to $200,000 a year simply by sharing your passion for hiking, telling stories by the campfire or preparing an authentic Native meal, would you do it?

It’s a tempting proposition, isn’t it? That’s exactly the concept behind Airbnb’s newest sharing platform called “Experiences.”

In a first-of-its-kind partnership with a U.S. state, the global short-term rentals giant recently teamed up with the Utah Office of Tourism to offer “unique-to-Utah” experiences for tourists seeking off-the-beaten-path, authentic adventures.

“This partnership is a way to get travelers to engage more with the communities they visit and leave with a deeper, richer Utah experience,” says Vicki Varela, executive director of Utah’s tourism office.

The partnership will also provide “micro-entrepreneurship opportunities” for knowledgeable locals (like members of Utah’s five tribes) who sign up to host an experience.

“We would welcome the opportunity to work with more tribes on Airbnb Experiences. Airbnb is centered on diversity and belonging, and we want to help highlight the Native community’s unique culture and heritage in Utah,” says Laura Rillos, a public affairs spokesperson for Airbnb. “We want to ensure that all communities, including the Native American community, can benefit from the sharing economy and use our Homes and Experiences platforms to earn meaningful extra income … in a thoughtful and sustainable way.”

Hike the Ancient Hills of White Canyon

Carol Talus (Courtesy Airbnb)

Carol Talus is the perfect example of a Native entrepreneur who is cashing in on Airbnb’s new Experiences platform. A third-generation Navajo, Talus runs a 5.7-mile guided hike through her back yard—the Ancient Hills of White Canyon.

“For me, it’s important to represent the Navajo Nation, especially for the younger generations. It’s important that my community share their stories and start their own businesses which will help them with job security,” she said. “Utah has something for everyone and I take a lot of pride in showing my Airbnb guests how beautiful the state is.”

For $130 per person, Talus will take her clients on a 4.5-hour intermediate hike through the Monument Valley. Along the way, hikers will learn how to tend the sheep on her grandparents’ sheep farm, explore the hidden canyons and cap off the day with a traditional Native meal, including tea and coffee, in a small Navajo home called a Hogan.

As one guest commented on the Airbnb review page, “Carol and her family were wonderful hosts. Most people only see the Tribal Park at Monument Valley, so this is a such a beautiful way to experience the Navajo culture. After a day of hiking and sharing stories, you are then rewarded with a delicious and thoughtful meal prepared by the family. It’s an incredibly special experience.”

How does the Experiences partnership work? Tour hosts receive 80 percent of the fees paid by guests (so Talus keeps $104/person of the $130/person fee). In exchange, Airbnb handles all promotion of the host’s experience on its website, helps to manage booking and coordination with guests, and covers the host with a limited liability insurance policy.

“It’s really quite inspiring—all the different ways people are transferring their talents and passions into business opportunities,” says Varela. She is especially excited about the positive economic impact this new partnership will have on rural Utah, as it relates to the state’s new jobs initiative. Gov. Gary Herbert aims to create 25,000 new jobs in remote communities across Utah.

Since Airbnb Experiences launched in 2016, more than 10,000 people in 180 cities around the world have signed up to host an experience. In Utah alone, the site promotes nearly 50 experiences throughout the state, such as guided hikes like Talus provides, tours of the local food scene and wildlife adventures.

Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky (Courtesy Airbnb)

In an interview with Fortune.com, Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky says the Experiences platform knows no bounds. “It’s growing about thirteen times faster than homes business was at the same time. And most of the business is just starting to take off.” He adds, “Nobody knows how big exactly it will become, but I have a kind of intuition that it’s going to be really large.”

Chesky explains that the new Airbnb Experiences platform offers more earning potential for hosts than for those who open up their homes to guests. “Most [home] hosts on Airbnb earn $7,000, so they’re more occasional. …Whereas with Experiences, people are able to do it on a more full-time basis, and because of that, you get more income per person.” He says many Experiences hosts are earning $100,000 to $200,000 a year. “That’s 10 times what I forecasted!”

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