In Los Angeles, visitors can join Hollywood stuntman David "Soop" Frison for a workout on Muscle Beach, a Cirque du Soleil-style acrobatics class and a practice session with other stunt performers.

In London, travelers can tag along with a record label scout searching for fresh talent, then step into a recording studio and finally dance the night away at one of the city's underground clubs.  

Both jaunts are part of Airbnb's new City Hosts tour product, "multiday trips curated by local, knowledgeable hosts," which the sharing-economy giant quietly introduced in June. The tours are currently available only to a select group of Airbnb users and include 83 experiences in eight destinations.

"We're continually experimenting with new things, and this is a private beta," said an Airbnb representative contacted about the program. "We don't have any specifics to share on this right now, but we have a few exciting things in the works."

The list of trips on the City Hosts website suggests that each host provides a minimum of two experiences, with prices ranging from under $100 to upwards of $500, depending on the activities provided.

Like Airbnb's short-term accommodation rentals, the small-group tours follow a peer-to-peer model, with local professionals offering a window into their world or welcoming visitors to explore a passion.

In San Francisco, guests can sample ales at a craft brewery, followed by a home-brewing workshop and dinner at a secret supper club. Host Justin Tung will even mail participants the results of their brewing efforts. In Tokyo, former sumo champion Konishiki introduces visitors to the sport's culture with a hosted dinner, a visit to a sumo house (where guests can sample a traditional hot pot meal and learn to throw a 440-pound wrestler) and tickets to a tournament with behind-the-scenes access.

City Hosts tours are also available in Paris, Miami, Cape Town and Florence.

Guides can be the key

However, the peer-to-peer model raises issues familiar to anyone who has booked a bed through Airbnb.

"How do they manage the quality control of it?" wondered CityPASS co-founder and co-chairman Mike Gallagher. "Obviously, if you have a great tour guide, it can make a huge difference in your experience. But if you have a not-so-great tour guide, that can also make a huge difference."

Gallagher should know. He previously worked as a driver-guide at the San Diego Zoo.

"If you do a tour 100 times, you're going to be really good at it," he said. "People with experience are valuable, especially tour guides."

On Viator's guide network, online at, professional private guides are listed with star ratings and specialties.

"Our reticence as a company to go into a purely [peer-to-peer model] is [that] it's very hard to monitor quality in that situation," said Viator vice president Kelly Gillease. "It's also very hard to provide a reliable experience."

To become certified guides, members of the San Francisco Tour Guide Guild undergo rigorous testing that demands in-depth knowledge of the entire Bay Area. But not every guide needs to know the history of the Ferry Building or the 1906 earthquake.

"There's nothing wrong with people who have a specialty and market themselves as that," said guild president Len Holmes. "If they do a good job, people will come back."

Tours By Locals, a digital platform that connects travelers with local guides, carefully vets its guides.

"We have a team dedicated to connecting with guides," said Sara Cooke, director of communications. Before someone can be listed, they must complete video interviews with company staff and undergo background and reference checks. Today, the 8-year-old site has 1,651 guides in 145 countries and has sold more than 100,000 tours.

Gillease also pointed to scalability and access as friction points: "Scaling is really, really hard with [peer-to-peer] guides. They're an individual who's going to provide [the tour] the one day a week they have off."

While nonprofessional guides might have access to unique destinations, Gillease said they likely can't deliver the volume to secure special VIP experiences at bucket-list attractions. With Viator Exclusives and Viator VIP, the company offers upgraded options, such as exploring the Vatican during hours it's not open to the public.

"That's really hard for an individual to do unless you're besties with the pope," Gillease said.

City Hosts, however, places less emphasis on the activities being provided and more on the character behind each tour.

"We believe that the best way to get to know a place is through its people, and Airbnb City Hosts gives guests access to some of the most interesting and welcoming people everywhere," the City Hosts website states. Tours are titled based on the guide: Art World Insider, Kawaii Kingpin, The Adventure Man.

Tours By Locals also enables travelers to search by tour or by guide.

"It's split between people who are really focused on what they want to see and who they want to meet," Cooke said, adding that Tours By Locals has identified Airbnb City Hosts as "something to watch."

"In an ideal world, we'd love to partner with Airbnb and have our experiences offered through their platform," she said.

This is not the first time Airbnb has dipped a toe into tours. In October, the Next Web reported that Airbnb was experimenting with packaged tours, dubbed Journeys, that included Airbnb accommodations, "curated excursions," one meal per day and a Lyft ride from the airport.

The beta program took place in San Francisco, where the company is based, and offered three itineraries themed around outdoor exploration, dining and the Mission District.

City Hosts are a pared-down version that focuses entirely on day tours. Bookings come with access to a trip app that offers other hosted activities as well as host-generated tips for restaurants, sites and attractions. Hosts become local guides for their guests, who can also contact them with general questions unrelated to the tour throughout their visit.

Along with a unique experience, that relationship could be a draw for travelers looking to skip mainstream attractions in favor of a more intimate encounter with a destination and its community.

That's certainly the case for Tours By Locals clients.

"People love this sense that they're making a friend in a destination that they're visiting," Cooke said. "They're making this local connection, and that really resonates with people."


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