Artist Kit Davey is teaching a Learn to Craft a Pop-Out Book class as an Airbnb Online Experience, a new program that launched due to COVID-19.
Starting in June, Airbnb announced it would expand its popular Airbnb Experiences program to include Online Experiences, billed as “unique activities to do at home.” With travel restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic looming, the popular travel community pivoted to offer its hosts an opportunity to create revenue from home. Class topics range from a family-friendly recipe scavenger hunt to a class on hammer throwing with an Olympian. The average cost of an Airbnb Online Experience is $23 per participant.
Crafters have hopped onboard, trying out Airbnb as a platform for hosting Online Experiences, with varying results. Here’s what five of them had to say about their sales, technical challenges, and advice for aspiring teachers.
Nicole Hamborsky has booked about 20 Online Experiences since listing her class, Hand Lettering and Modern Calligraphy, in April. When one of her day jobs in the hospitality industry closed due to the pandemic, this Detroit-area artist started teaching crafts online to stay afloat.
Airbnb provides hosts with professional Zoom accounts, so the platform is fully integrated and set up for them to start teaching. Nicole purchased a small ring light for her computer to help make sure she is properly lit while teaching.
She advises other creatives who are thinking about teaching online to just have fun with it and be yourself. “I think my most successful classes are the ones where I can be totally goofy and entertaining,” she says. “I also love it when I can get my students to feel comfortable enough to show me their work and progress.”
“When they’re eager to share that means I did my job creating a safe and engaging environment to learn a new skill.”
Kit Davey’s class, Learn to Craft a Pop-Out Book, has enrolled 22 students—a small boost to help this San Francisco–based art teacher recover income lost due to the pandemic. She spends a bit of time coaching attendees on how to use the “pin video” option on Zoom. “Some are unable to do so because of old computers,” she says. “I have had to adjust how I teach the class accordingly. One day my power went out and I lost my Internet connection. Fortunately, I had my phone on at the same time and was able to teach the class using just my phone.”
For others looking to host an Online Experience with Airbnb, she recommends you become very familiar with Zoom and run a test class in advance to make sure it fits within the allotted time.
“Give more information than students expect—extra tips, anecdotes, and so on,” she says. “Also, engage attendees by asking questions and using their names.”
Kit Davey demonstrates how to make a pop-out for her Airbnb Online Experience class on Zoom.
Teaching Origami and the Essence of Japan from her home in Koto City, Japan, Airbnb host Manami Watanabe has booked 120 Online Experiences since beginning this summer. Unlike some other hosts, Watanabe isn’t relying on Airbnb income. “I have a full-time main job and I’m doing Airbnb for achieving a personal sense of fulfillment,” she explains.
Technical challenges were frequent at first. “At the initial stage, I encountered many troubles,” she says. “I use two windows and sometimes guests couldn’t see one of them. My Zoom froze quite often even though my Wi-Fi signal was perfect, or a guest’s Internet connection was bad.” She also bought more teaching equipment than she expected, including an iPad with 4G contract.
Manami Watanabe folds origami while filming herself on her phone for her Airbnb Online Experience class, Origami and the Essence of Japan.
Before jumping into the pool of teaching an online craft class, Watanabe recommends catering your content to meet a variety of skill levels. “I used to offer one program, but some guests said it was too easy, while some couldn’t make the same items very well. So now I’m giving options with different difficulty levels so that guests can choose.”
She also suggests offering a different program for kids, taking into consideration that kids coming from different cultures might approach a craft differently.
“Kids’ skills, patience, and maturity have huge gaps even between children of the same age,” she explains. “Some kids will panic, while others are origami geniuses.
“Also, you can’t trust the booking information. Parents book kids under their own names, and even if you set the minimum participation age at 12, they may book a 6-year-old.” She puts disclaimers on her welcome message and on the booking page regarding ages to participate and tries to figure out the guest’s information beforehand to help her prepare for teaching.
Amsterdam-based crafter Louke Spigt has taught her class Transforming Socks Into Darling Dolls to five participants since going live. “It is nice and disappointing at the same time,” she says. “I am a full-time tour guide, and I get a lot of my work via Airbnb, so when COVID-19 hit, I immediately saw all of my bookings disappear.”
To prepare for her shift to online teaching, Louke upgraded her Internet package and built a studio space in her home for teaching the Zoom workshops, investing in a new camera, a mic, and stands. She also took workshops and webinars to study the ins and outs of online teaching. “My advice for other creatives is to be patient, and to aim for more than one class.”
Jim Silverman has taught his Airbnb Online Experience, Book-Making Fun for the Whole Family, a couple of dozen times. The class replaces a fraction of his lost income as host to a home rental in Sonoma, California. “I was among the first Online Experiences hosts in the initial offering,” he says. “Since then, they added so many experiences—and maybe because book-making isn’t top of mind for many folks—my offering has slipped beneath the waves.”
Using Zoom to teach his class has gone fairly well, particularly with the use of Apple AirPods to improve sound quality, though he did run into one challenge—learning how to share pictures with students. “Because my book-making experience involves storytelling about the first children’s book published in California, I learned to put all the images into a folder then open them all on the desktop before initiating the Zoom session.”
Jim’s advice to others interested in teaching their craft online is to do their research.
“Get clear about your passion,” he says.
“Think about why people might sign-up, then study the Online Experiences already offered to see which are the most popular. Select three experiences that resemble what you have in mind then register as a guest. Following that, reach out to those hosts to ask if they’d advise you as you develop your own program.”
Lindsay is a modern quilter, writer, and editor. A multi-book author with C&T Publishing, her latest project was designing sampler quilts for FreeSpirit Block Party (Stash Books, September 2018). She also works with Craftsy and Baby Lock sewing machines, and is an editor for Frommer's Travel Guides. She lives in Indianapolis with her husband, son, and two cats, who were the inspiration for her adult coloring book and Kickstarter "Project of the Day" Lazy-Ass Cats. www.lindsaysews.com, www.lazyasscats.com