I love the idea of tours by local non-professional guides. People who just offer to take visitors out to see some of their favorite sights. There are a growing number companies offering peer-to-peer tours. But there is a big challenge: How to ensure the tours and experiences offered are of good quality. I wrote about this problem after an experience in Spain where I felt the guide had a misleading ad on Trip4Real (a company that has since been bought by Airbnb).
Each company addresses this problem differently. Some individually vet each host; these tend to be more expensive offerings like TravelingSpoon. Others require hosts to complete screenings (like upload a video or answer a lot of questions) that will hopefully weed out the less serious folks. But in spite of (or perhaps because of) these efforts, some companies end up offering commercial tours rather than local experiences.
Case Study: Maui
Recently I was searching for fun alternative activities in Maui. I figured this would be a good test of how far the peer-to-peer tour market has expanded. Maui isn’t exactly a hotbed of local tours and experiences. It’s dominated by commercial tourist excursions.
It occurred to me to check AirBnb’s Experiences and I was surprised to find 23 listings for Maui. The first listing was “Goat Yoga”. I kid you not. I’m pretty confident this isn’t a standard commercial tourist offering. But I’m not necessarily looking for yoga with goats. So I moved on. The next listing was for a snorkel tour to Lanai. This is more up my alley. But reading the listing it’s pretty clear this is one of the snorkel tour companies just listing their services on AirBnb. There’s also a whale watching tour, a Molokini snorkel tour, a jet boat ride, SUP tours, and canoe tours all of which look like they are offered by local companies.
To be fair there are a few other local experiences on Airbnb, in addition to the goat yoga. There’s a farm tour, a surf lesson, and a second goat yoga experience (with live music, at sunset), ukulele lessons, tennis with a pro, pilates, and hiking. Definitely a nice array of offerings that I don’t see on from the standard tourist companies. At a glance I’d say it’s about 50/50 commercial vs. local tours on Airbnb in Maui. Many of the commercial tours are by the same company: Hawaiian Ocean Adventures which claims to offer “native Hawaiian guides specialize in ocean recreational experiences with an emphasis on sharing our Hawaiian culture.” That’s a great selling point for a company, but there’s nothing peer-to-peer about it.
I did find a few other peer-to-peer tour websites with offerings in Hawaii. Triip has three unique tours listed that definitely seem to be offered by locals. Advlo has ten options and some appear to be unique local experiences. But others look like they’re just listing for companies offering surf lessons, spear fishing, and diving. ToursbyLocals also had a few options in Hawaii that appear to be genuine local tours. But a few of them (offered by the same host) are priced at $1000 for a six hour tour so I’m not sure the host is serious. I guess that proves the platform lets the locals set their own prices! Vayable has 17 listings and they mostly seem to be unique local experiences. There are a few private boat charter options, some interesting tours and excursions, and one private yoga class.
If I want to go out diving, or take a surf lesson, I don’t see an advantage of using these locals over a company focused on this service. In fact for diving I’d feel more comfortable with a well reviewed company known for safe upkeep of their equipment. But for a unique experience like ukulele lessons or yoga with goats, these peer-to-peer experiences are a good option.
To find a peer-to-peer tour for your next trip, check out my spreadsheet of peer-to-peer travel companies. Filter on the Category column to select “Activities”.