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Airbnb puts a new spin on the tourist experience

Slow tourism is taking off in Cape Town, writes Alison Foat

25 October 2017 - 10:26 By Alison Foat
Cape Town was among the first 12 cool cities to offer Airbnb Experiences.
Cape Town was among the first 12 cool cities to offer Airbnb Experiences.
Image: Supplied

I am 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 plan their journeys. It's less about trawling through museums and monuments and more about discovering the heartbeat of a place. For most, the 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 to design and lead handcrafted and unusual activities that showcase their communities.

It's all about the human connection and anyone can be a freelance tour guide. All that's required is time and talent and voilà, travellers get access to the hidden gems not typically found in guidebooks and brochures.

Airbnb is the brainchild of 35-year-old US entrepreneur Brian Chesky. The portal is worth $30-billion and operates pretty much everywhere except the likes of Iran and North Korea.

Chesky, mentored by Amazon icon Jeff Bezos whose investment into Airbnb was upwards of $100-million, launched the Experiences concept in November last year. 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, culture, adventure, sport or food, there's likely to be an offbeat Experience with your name on it.

"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 who love to share their passions," says Velma Corcoran, Airbnb's regional market consultant for Southern Africa.

Lucie de Moyencourt, an architect turned illustrator and painter, who has hosted her Experience since December 2016, reckons there's an artist lurking within each one of us. Considering that my doodling skill-set doesn't extend beyond emoji smileys, I made my booking. What transpired was an amazing crafternoon that had me channeling my inner Picasso and feeling like a sketch boss when I was done.

As soon as you meet De Moyencourt 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 a box of watercolours, 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. De Moyencourt has a penchant for capturing city scenes and takes her guests to 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, 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?

Dip your toes into one of these Cape Airbnb experiences:


A three-day trail run exploring Cape Town’s scenery and eventually taking a little jog up Table Mountain for some dinner. Visit airbnb.com/experiences/313


Spend your day making authentic African art with an award-winning artist. Visit airbnb.com/experiences/52106


Revisit Nelson Mandela’s prison years with one of his warders. Visit  airbnb.com/experiences/4641

• This article was originally published in The Times.