I wrote this piece last year as part of my column on Medium. Since then, the COVID-19 pandemic has drastically shifted the way rural communities use the platform for business. In the long run, Airbnb is still and will be an important platform that ranches, homesteaders, and event/experience organizers can leverage to bring in new streams of revenue. In the short term, Airbnb is pivoting to generate revenue for itself (which means revenue for you).
For the rest of 2020, here are two ways you may want to leverage it:
- Host A Virtual Experience: Airbnb is offering virtual experience participation. Currently, there are over 100 available and they have 1000 requests to host more. Can you take your experience virtual?
- Extend Your Stay Requirements: For those of you that are comfortable hosting guests, you can offer long term stays. The company has launched a comprehensive resource center for hosts to help guests and themselves feel safe.
- Apply For Grants: Airbnb offers grants and financial assistance for super hosts. They pledged $250 million to assist hosts as well.
While they didn’t use Airbnb, Sweet Farm partnered with GoToMeeting to create Goat 2 Meeting. Goat 2 Meeting offers private and group farm tours for individuals and companies. Because of the demand, they partnered with six other farms and animal sanctuaries to fill their tour schedules. Participation costs between $60-$100 for 20 minutes!
Can Airbnb Revive Rural Agritourism and Agribusiness Opportunities?
Airbnb wants to revive agritourism and business opportunities in rural America; discover three ways your farm may benefit and build new sources of revenue.
I became a casual user of Airbnb in 2016. When I booked my trips, I’d scour the site for farms, farm houses, or victorian homes that could be found along the way to my destination. From Seattle to Santa Fe, Sedona to Sacramento, I loved experiencing the places I found along the backroads that branched off the major interstate highways.
Since Airbnb launched, there have been three major developments that are specifically related to rural areas, food, and farming. The first is expanding their stay classification categories to allow users to book “Farm Stays.” The second was the launch of Airbnb Experiences, that offered animal-friendly activities, and third is the most recent launch Airbnb Adventures. The addition of rental type classifications, ag-related day activities, and excursions made me wonder:
Could Airbnb’s expansion continue to help farm, rural America, and agriculture by providing new sources of income?
Digging into the research, I found that is exactly what the company was hoping to accomplish and several opportunities were easy to identify. Given the fact that 97 percent of U.S. farms are family-owned, and 88 percent of those are considered small, and many of them don’t qualify for government subsidies, additional revenue sources are critical. Thinking of using Airbnb to do that? Here are three ways you can do that with their platform.
Airbnb Offerings Farms Can Utilize
Short and Long-Term Rentals
Your first option is to become a host. Airbnb currently has over seven million listings located in 220+ countries. While Airbnb doesn’t specifically state the number of users the site has, it says that it has had over 500 million stays with an average of two million people staying in Airbnb every night. The amount of money hosts make averages out to be about $7,000 per year; while some average is $10,00-$20,000 per year.
When I surveyed small farms (under 20 acres) on how much they made renting rooms, guest houses, or creative lodging (tiny houses, bunkhouses, converted chicken coops) they shared they made about $12,000 – $15,000 per year, after three years on the site and becoming Super Hosts. Airbnb charges home renting hosts a fee of about three percent and guests up to fifteen percent of the reservation. It’s free to join and anyone can open up an Airbnb hosting account.
Your second option is to apply to host experiences. Airbnb launched Experiences in 2017; the company said it wanted its customers to “remember wildlife is more than just a selfie prop or a cool performance on the internet.” Currently, there are over 40,000 experiences available in over 1,000 cities. From afternoon cooking classes to a day with animals, local residents and tourists alike can find unique and creative activities to take part in.
In October of this year, Airbnb, which offers animal experiences, worked with World Animal Protection to adopt a strict animal welfare policy surrounding domestic and wild animals. There are several types of Experiences available to people. In order to create an experience, you must apply to be a part of the Experiences program. If you’re accepted, Airbnb takes a 20 percent commission on what you make.
Airbnb Adventures is a new collection of Experiences that the company calls “bucket list-worthy multi-day experiences hosted by local experts that take intimate groups to epic, off-the-beaten-path locations and immerses them in unique cultures and communities.” Adventures are aimed to be more affordably priced than trips found online. Currently, there are 200 adventures to choose from that are either entirely exclusive to Airbnb, or provided by small, local operators that are not typically found on any other major booking platform. Adventures are led by local experts that must meet certain quality and safety standards.
Adventures hosts arrange the Adventures they offer, control when and where they host, the itinerary, where they stay, what services they offer, and what they charge. Group sizes max out at 12 people. The hosts offer a range of prices from $79 for an overnight trip up to $5,000 for a 10-day trek. The median price of an Adventure is $588 for a three-day trip. Like Experiences, Adventures hosts must apply to host and the company also takes a 20 percent commission so make sure your pricing strategy fits your revenue goals and is worth the time investment.
Creative Ways Farms Can Make Money From Airbnb
Now that you have an overview of what Airbnb offers, it’s time to see how they could benefit your farm. I’m going to go in order of how I listed the services above.
Open Your Farm To Visitors and Influence Food Conversations
When it comes to hosting, I gave away most of the goods about how much money you could make as a host in the paragraphs above. If you have a spare room, how could you use an extra $7,000 per year? If you have a guest house, tiny house (of which there are 14,000 on Airbnb), a tree house (they have 2,400 of those), a bunkhouse, a converted chicken coop, or anything unique, why not utilize guest space to generate extra income? Hosting is a great option for those who like to have others around.
The top U.S. destinations for international and domestic travelers:
Booked over 19,000+ farm stays.
That translated to 745,000 nights booked by 943,534 guests.
The most visited states were Kentucky, Texas, and Georgia
And some of them kinda liked yurts and treehouses…
Source: Airbnb 2019 Travel Review
From the homestead to cattle ranch, an organic farm to a winery, given the continued increase in interests in staying in farm settings, it’s hard to not want to consider opening up your land to someone. As farm owners and land stewards, the biggest request I hear the industry making is for people (customers) to come and “talk to a farmer” instead of searching Google or relying on media based in a city where the nearest farm is over three hours away and they’ve never been there. If we want to dictate the conversation on food, farming, and agriculture, this a great way to do it.
How Farms Can Create and Host Experiences
If hosting someone isn’t for you, maybe creating an experience is. In 2018, the average earnings for someone who hosted Experiences in the U.S. nine times per month made $6,200; someone who hosted Experiences fifteen times or so a month made upwards of $24,000 annually. On average, Experiences hosts who have day events charge anywhere from $25-$150 per person for a single activity, with the group size being a maximum of 12 people.
Airbnb encourages unique Experiences from people that live in all areas of the U.S. Some of the most creative ones I’ve found are having tea with naughty sheep, walking rescue dogs (pretty clever way to solve the challenges of getting volunteers), having coffee with cats, cuddling baby cows and turkeys, taking part in equine therapy, assistance with farm chores, love on your llamas, and practice yoga with goats (if you are that hip).
The key to experiences is creativity and originality. You can create something as simple as a land tour where you share your experience in farming and talking to people about what you do. You could create something more interactive and hands on like learning to keep bee hives, herd sheep, or weave textiles?
Currently, there are just over 1,000 animal experiences on Airbnb and internationally; the platforms wants more experiences in more locations in order to offer greater diversity and choices. Why not develop something and try it out? Think about it:
- Could you create an experience on organic dairy and let people milk cows?
- Could you create an experience on artisan cheese making?
- Could you teach people how to plant a small garden or a certain type of crop?
- If you’re a cook, can you create a cooking class?
Farms and farmers have lots of generational knowledge that’s still absent from the Internet and many books, why not share it in the world with others wanting to learn and listen in person?
Airbnb Experiences Humor:
“People pay you $25-$45 per hour to groom your animals, help with chores and shovel poop? Awesome!”
How Farms Can Drive the Success of Airbnb Adventures
Airbnb’s CEO told Fortune that his ultimate vision for Airbnb is to do to travel what Amazon has done to retail, making the platform a “one-stop shop” for all things related to travel. In my mind, Adventures is the next step in that. When I look at the initial adventures that are curated, there was only one related to farming and agriculture. That Adventure is a three-day horseback riding experience in the Malibu mountains priced at $395; it includes riding, food, and lodging. That’s a great deal! But Adventures can be pushed farther and farms can help drive that.
Working Ranches: If you own a dude ranch, why not partner with Airbnb to utilize them to fill spots during the seasons you’re open? If you’re not an agritourism ranch and have a smaller outfit, you could still invite guests to learn how to work and run a ranch (before they go buy their own because they watched a bunch of documentaries on Netflix).
Organic Farming Schools: People pay to go to organic farming schools. The costs range between $5,000 – $12,000 for any good program in Washington, Oregon, or elsewhere. These programs could create shorter, hands on intensives for guests to work and learn about certain aspects of organic farming. If you’re an organic farmer, you could create a program where you teach people to grow certain types of crops at certain times of the year in their backyards. You can create materials that cover everything from soil health to the best growing practices. There’s a lot of room for creativity.
Herbal Programs & Survival Schools: People love wilderness survival (we can thank Hollywood’s apocalyptic and zombie fetishes) and DIY herbalism is experiencing rampant growth because of the self-care movement. If you are running a survival school that already has programs and events, extend them to Airbnb. If you’re a bushman that can safely run a multi-day trip in the backcountry, do it. If you’re an herbalist, consider designing a weekend event where people forage for herbs, learn to break them down, and create basic things like balms, teas, and tinctures.
Meat and Livestock Education: I don’t know if this one would ever fly but I’m throwing it out there. What about butchery classes? I’ve taken several in the past year and I’d love to see the whole animal butchery for cooking aficionados added. I’d take sausage making in Italy or an Iberico ham prep course in Spain.
Cooks, Chefs, and Farm Food Hubs: This one is almost a no brainer. Create a food experience and design a multi-day class around your culinary expertise! People love food, they love to eat, and love connective experiences. I don’t have to get very tactical on this one.
Take some time to plan it, lay it out, and then apply to Airbnb to see if you can make it a reality. I’d also be prepared to show them why it may be a good fit. Also, make sure what you create adheres to any policies they have. Make sure your application addresses those policies.
Is It Worth It?
“Dave Coleburn is a host in Seattle. He’s got this nonprofit called Predators of the Heart. And essentially it’s a wolf conservation, so you go hiking in the woods with wolves. And he’s going to make $200,000 a year doing that.
We have people outside of Florence, two chefs who are going to make $140,000 a year and they just pick people up at the train, take them to their house, and you learn to make pasta at their home and make a meal with them.”
Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky, Fortune
How Airbnb is Evolving Agribusiness and Tourism Models
In their Beyond Cities: How Airbnb Supports Rural Revitalization, the company provides a detailed overview of how the platform aims to globally support rural areas through the development of tourism and travel. The company reported that 18.4 percent of U.S listings on Airbnb were located in rural areas and hosts in rural areas earned $316 million dollars in 2018.
To me, that number shows that rural tourism is an extremely healthy and viable business that can help local farms create new sources of revenue. It also indicates that, depending on the size, rural agritourism can help generate more local jobs and maybe even fuel other types of growth opportunities. The report shows that many parts of the country still lack Airbnb listings and guest demand has risen steadily, suggesting there’s more room for lots of creative expansion. The interest in Airbnb is growing amongst small to medium-sized farms looking for new ways to generate revenue. For those that already host, they’ve updated their websites with direct links to book rooms on Airbnb, as well as updated their local listings on Yelp, Google, and Facebook with links to book via Airbnb too.
Women Continue To Win In Agriculture
In eight states, two-thirds or more of rural hosts are women: Wyoming (69 percent); Alaska and Maine (67 percent); and Ohio, Missouri, Maryland, Washington, and Montana (66 percent).
Farms that have been hosting for several years have started to gain some notoriety and hosts have started to share their experiences in building Airbnb farm revenue so that others can use their ideas. While there are pros and cons to everything, for small to medium-sized farms that don’t receive subsidies, Airbnb can bring in steadier, more consistent income to your operation that you can use to pay for labor, feed, or other costs.
Wealth shouldn’t be tied up in land and livestock. All of us have a right to liquidity. If you’ve used Airbnb as part of your business, please share your experiences in the comments. I’d love to know what your experiences have been.
Note: The topic of Airbnb’s potential impact on farms or other agritourism based businesses is hard to find as the data around it is mixed into larger documents and the topic itself has just started to become a conversation in more rural settings. All of the stats cited in this article were taken from the Airbnb Newsroom for journalists, their blog, their help index, and/or reports syndicated in the media. All outside sources are linked to.
Legalities of Airbnb: People love to attack things that disrupt large industries. Airbnb is no different. It’s important that you look at your county and state laws in regards to what they allow. If you need permits, get them. If you need help understanding something, reach out to Airbnb. If you need help on finances or legal protection, reach out to your accountant and/or a lawyer. Be smart. Also make sure you’re up to date on local agritourism laws.
Originally written for Medium in December 2019.