My Airbnb Reality Television Experience

Airbnb’s new “Experiences” offer a glimpse into various subcultures. In my case, it was a specific slice of L.A’s entertainment scene.

Airbnb is now offering tours and events called “Experiences,” which travelers (and curious locals) can purchase through the company’s mobile app. I recently got a taste of Airbnb’s new venture when I spent the afternoon in the offices of a Los Angeles-area production company, learning all about how reality television shows are created.


Seth G. Sherman is a producer who has worked on such series as Undercover Boss and Little People, Big World. He’s also an early participant in Airbnb’s Experiences program and has hosted several tours to beta testers over the past few months. Visitors to Los Angeles can pay $298 for his experience package, “The New Reality,” which includes approximately seven hours of activities, ranging from a tour of Venice Beach to practice sessions for pitching reality shows. He offers the deal approximately twice a month.

I and a small group of fellow journalists participated in an abbreviated, four-hour version of Sherman’s project during Airbnb Open, the company’s recent annual trade show where the Experiences product was announced. I found it pretty fascinating.

Experiences, Experiences, Experiences

Sherman has an enviable home on the Venice canals, a neighborhood that’s about a 10-minute walk from the beach and is close to a concentration of tech companies like Snap/Snapchat and Google. He shares the home with his partner, Matt Orr (who works in Airbnb’s Trips department). My tour group consisted of journalists from China, Japan, and Spain; I was the only Los Angeles-based reporter there.

The experience kicked off with a walk around the Venice canals, which snake around the backyards of multi-million dollar homes. We also got a rundown of Venice Beach’s history.

Then, during a catered lunch at Sherman’s home, the host discussed his work on series like Catch A Contractor. He explained how it’s standard for producers to elicit desired reactions from on-screen talent to amp up the drama in the finished show, and gave an overview of the editing process for each episode.

Next, we made our way to Sherman’s production company in Redondo Beach, 3 Ball Entertainment. He guided us through the editing bays and offices, then we gathered in a conference room where he explained the pitch process for reality TV series. One-sheets for various potential shows were passed around. On the full tour, Sherman explained, visitors would get to pitch ideas and get detailed feedback from him.


Scaling Experiences Out

I could see the appeal of Airbnb’s Experiences—even the abbreviated, tailored-for-media version. Sherman was offering a peek into a very particular slice of L.A. culture that would be difficult for a casual tourist to access—or even for locals like me. Overall, the appeal of these adventures lies in the novelty. Other tours in Los Angeles, for instance, cover foraging for cocktail ingredients in the Santa Monica mountains, tech workshops for homeless LGBT teenagers, and driving across Los Angeles in vintage cars.

Airbnb’s new undertaking could also be profitable for hosts like Sherman. When I asked him how much he earns from the experiences, he explained that during this beta period, he makes approximately $1,800 per tour when there are six participants (before factoring in expenses like catering). As he put it to me, the tour appeals to him because the activities he offers are “stuff I’d be doing anyway,” like hanging around Venice Beach or brainstorming at his office.

Hosts will also need to factor in Airbnb’s commissions. Although the structure for Experiences is still being finalized, it is likely to be similar to the company’s model for home shares.

The profit strategy, on the other hand, is different. In order to maximize revenue, hosts need to pack as many participants as possible into their events: Profits increase in tandem with the number of paying customers in a way that Airbnb’s home rentals typically do not.

The challenge, then, is getting the word out. Experiences’ survival will depend on Airbnb aggressively promoting it to the wider public, beyond the existing customer base who use Airbnb for lodging. There’s a great big world of tourists who pay to stay at conventional hotels. For Experiences to take off, Airbnb will have to attract them too.