Social Impact Experiences: Ethical Tourism According to Airbnb

“We heard from hosts and guests, on both sides, that they wanted to be able to find more ways to contribute to the communities where they live, or where they stay as a guest,” Airbnb’s Head of Social Impact, Kim Rubey, told Fast Company. “There’s a strong universe of travelers who do want to have that ability to give back and benefit local organizations.”

Although not a new addition to Airbnb’s repertoire, social impact experiences and sustainable tourism initiatives are increasingly on travelers’ radars.

Social impact experiences on Airbnb

The Airbnb Social Impact Experiences Program has been promoted by over 400 TechSoup partners worldwide and includes activities carried out by non-profit organizations operating in different territories.

Back in February 2018, Airbnb announced the addition of new categories to their Experience offering: Airbnb Concerts; Social Dining; Adventures; plus an expansion of their established Social Impact Experiences.

The purpose of social impact experiences is to put travelers in contact with voluntary associations and non-profit organizations in the areas they visit. Currently, about 10% of all experiences on Airbnb fall into the social impact category.

Local non-profit organizations manage these transformative experiences and collect 100% of the proceeds – as Airbnb waives its service fees for them. To date, social impact experiences on Airbnb have raised over $1.5 million for charitable causes.

At the moment, social impact experiences vary greatly in terms of price and length of activity. For example, in Los Angeles, it’s possible to get involved in a project which aims to reintegrate former prisoners through musical projects. In San Francisco, on the other hand, travelers can serve meals for the homeless at a soup kitchen or walk elderly dogs for a local dog shelter which has rescued them from the street. Or in Nairobi, guests can spend $150 to stand side-by-side with the Masaai and learn their crafts or recipes from Kenyan cuisine, with all proceeds going directly to a non-profit association for women’s emancipation.

Beware the pitfalls

Airbnb is not the only company to appeal to the idea of guests traveling around the world and “doing good”. Often, when reserving online, booking portals ask guests to donate a percentage of the booking amount to a given cause. In addition, the same frequently happens with some airlines – both when booking online and physically during the flight.

However, even experiences with the best intentions can have a catch. In fact, unfortunately, it is not rare to run into scams or organizations which boast charity projects, but who, on further inspection, donate very little of their proceeds. Moreover, every culture has its own ideas regarding what a “good dead” really is. Therefore, any hosts looking to provide social impact experiences will have to be very careful when choosing which project to join or which organization to promote.

For any owner who aspires to host a social impact program, there are some pointers to bear in mind. First, you must demonstrate that the organization with which you intend to collaborate is a registered non-profit organization, as defined by partner TechSoup and the laws of the country in which it operates. Second, the TechSoup portal must validate your organization.

Who can participate in social impact experiences?

According to the site, Airbnb social impact hosts can be “staff, board members, contractors, volunteers or supporters” of any local non-profit. In addition, they should have real expertise in the work of the non-profit and have the consent of the organization.

For property owners who only have a personal Airbnb account, you will first need to sign out, then create a new account for your non-profit organization. If you already have an account on Airbnb for the organization, use this account to create the social impact experience.

Social impact experiences: a growing trend for the vacation rental industry

Ecotourism initiatives and environmental protection are two big talking points in the travel industry today. A study by Phocuswright and Tourism Cares observed that an ever-increasing number of travelers want to get to know the local issues of the places they visit and actively do something to help the population or improve certain situations.

For example, nearly half of all travelers attach a very high degree of importance to having their travel spend and donations make a positive difference to local communities in their vacation destination. In addition, the study found that travelers’ satisfaction with a trip directly correlates to their charitable activity. In fact, 60% indicated that giving to charity enhanced their trips.

This trend is not restricted to Airbnb, however. In a world where social media platforms such as Instagram form a key part of the decision-making process for travelers, it’s likely we will see even more growth and more social impact initiatives in the coming years.

Whether you have thought about promoting these types of activities or not, there is no denying that vacation rental owners have a huge opportunity to reach a wide audience and give back to their community. As more guests become conscientious about which social impact experiences they can undertake on their travels, we can expect to see more vacation rental owners stepping up to join forces with local charitable organizations and raise money for very worthy causes.

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