This article first appeared in The Times SA on 25 October 2017
I’m done being a tourist. The more I travel, the more I want to find unique ways to unwrap a destination. Once all the sightseeing boxes have been ticked, I want to immerse myself in a place, delve a little deeper and leave feeling like an insider.
Experts have observed a shift in the way people are curating their travel journeys. Increasingly, it’s less about trawling through museums and monuments and more about discovering the heartbeat of a place, and for most, the most authentic way to achieve that is via the residents.
Online marketplace and hospitality service Airbnb has gone for the gap and introduced Experiences to the platform by engaging local hosts around the world to design and lead handcrafted and unusual activities that showcase their communities and neighbourhood diversity. It’s all about the human connection and anyone can be a freelance tour guide. All that’s required is time and talent and voila, travellers get access to the hidden gems not typically found in guidebooks and brochures.
Airbnb is the brainchild of 35 year old American entrepreneur Brian Chesky. The portal is worth approximately US$30 billion today and is operating pretty much everywhere on the planet except a handful of countries like Iran and North Korea. Chesky, mentored by financial icon Jeff Bezos whose investment into Airbnb was upwards of US$100 million, launched the Experiences concept in November last year and Cape Town was among the first 12 cool cities to offer the feature alongside LA, Paris, Miami and Havana, to name a few. Whether your passion is wine, sustainability, culture, adventure, sport or food, there’s likely to be an Experience with your name on it, and the more off beat the better. “From stand up paddling with penguins to making art from trash and solving a murder mystery that involves a lot of gin, Experience hosts are locals that love to share their passions with international visitors or interested citizens,” says Velma Corcoran, Airbnb’s Regional Market Consultant for Southern Africa.
Lucie de Moyencourt, an architect turned illustrator and painter, has hosted her Airbnb Experience since December 2016, reckons there’s an artist lurking within each one of us. Considering that my doodling skillset doesn’t extend beyond emoji smileys, intrigue won out over skepticism and I made my booking, curious as a cat. What transpired was an amazing crafternoon that had me channeling my inner Picasso and feeling like a sketch boss by the time I was done.
As soon as you meet Lucie and step into her creative space, you feel at ease and capable. Over coffee, she chats and piques interest as she pages through albums of her drawn adventures, captured on her travels from Cannes to the Cape. Next she lays out the tools of her trade – a box of water colours, paint brushes, Japanese ink pens and a sketchbook that you get to keep, made of superior cotton rag paper. Quality materials are the game changer she says, making any effort look impressive. Lucie has a penchant for capturing city scenes and takes her guests to a number of visually interesting spots in her ‘hood and surrounds. On my visit, we sat in an Oranjezicht garden on a moody spring day and painted Lion’s Head through a row of palm trees. Where Lucie’s strokes were swift and precise, her brush like a conductor’s baton, mine were staccato and a little clumsy but it didn’t matter because Experiences are about taking your time, being in the moment and gaining a fresh perspective whether you’re seeing something for the first time or not. This is slow tourism at its best and you’ll walk away feeling like you’ve touched on the personality of a place through interaction with a passionate local. A good Experience will leave an indelible impression and make you want to explore more. What’s not to love?
www.airbnb.com/s/South-Africa/experiences / @lucie.in.wonderlands on Instagram