Simon Whitfield: How Airbnb Experience Hosting helped get my business off the ground

“It’s been a very positive hosting an Experience on Airbnb; you meet terrific people, it’s challenging, and you feel alive.” Retired Canadian triathlete Simon Whitfield has run paddleboard tours off the coast of Victoria, Canada, as an Airbnb Experience Host for a number of years. Here he describes how and why he got his experience started, explains why he finds the work so invigorating and offers his advice to other athletes looking to do something similar.

  • Olympic gold medal-winning triathlete Simon Whitfield has successfully hosted an Airbnb Experience for a number of years.
  • He thinks the scheme presents an excellent opportunity for athletes to start developing new ventures that are flexible and rewarding.
  • With our support, you can follow in Simon’s footsteps and become an Airbnb host.

I’m involved in a few business ventures, but my Airbnb paddle boarding experience is the one I spend the most time on and create the most opportunities for. 

For a while now, there’s been a discussion amongst athletes about how best to share our knowledge and experience and continue to connect with people after our sporting careers. To be able to do that on a platform that has the credibility and reach that Airbnb has is great, whether it’s related to a specific sport that we competed in or something different that we are passionate about.

Overall, it’s been a very positive experience. You meet terrific people, it’s challenging, and you feel alive. It gives me a living and I get to paddle each and every day with people from around the world and some amazing wildlife.

Fine-tuning a business plan

I’d had the idea about doing an experience for a while, but I didn’t know how to expand my reach, and communicate with and understand my audience. Until Airbnb provided a framework for how to set it all up, I was really just guessing! After discussions with Airbnb, I quickly realised that I was going about it wrong.

I initially felt my experience needed to be very high-end and exclusive, but actually that wasn’t very authentic or genuine for me. Truthfully, I just wanted to be outside and meet people, and Airbnb helped me reconfigure my experience to make it much more accessible; instead of expensive luxury excursions, we simplified it down to just getting out on a paddle board and seeing downtown Victoria. Having Airbnb’s support to act as a sounding board and give direction has allowed me to broaden my reach, share my knowledge, and has made the whole thing a very positive experience.

Finding purpose after retirement

I really enjoy meeting people through the Airbnb hosting setup. When I first retired from professional sport, I had this feeling that I was really disconnected from the everyday athlete, and I shied away from people because I had this internal competitive fire burning. I had to recalibrate my expectations, and being a host helped me adapt to life after sport. 

I once took a client who had never even seen the ocean, let alone been on it, out paddling. That was a watershed moment. I recognised that I didn’t need it to be competitive or part of some elite competition. There was just this great joy of connecting with people and sharing an experience, to give someone a chance to get out and see the ocean and nature. It’s quite spectacular. That was something that I wanted to do post sport and the host experience is a terrific way to do it. 

Hosting an Airbnb Experience means you get to set the schedule and be able to make progress on a venture that you care about. Sports, particularly endurance sports, can be a very solitary endeavour, and the paddling combines a nice mix of social aspects with time out on the ocean and the quiet that comes with it. It can be challenging, but you meet great characters and deal with all types of people. It gives me a living and those interactions are in their own way fulfilling. It’s a great way to spend the day.

Starting your own experience

The one thing you think it will be at the beginning is the one thing you can guarantee it’s not! There’s no straight line, as everybody knows. Look to make incremental changes, not wholesale swings, but just adapt to what is happening.

Airbnb’s model is around accessibility, so focus on making your experience open. I hope that’s what I’m providing. Paddling can be quite tough for someone who’s intimidated by the ocean, so we have six-person paddle boards which are very difficult to fall off, and they actually have a bench installed on them so that people with mobility issues can use them. The idea is that you can give it a go whether you’re 17 or 70. 

People will come to your experience because of your background as an athlete, but you’ll also get plenty of people who don’t, and it can be intimidating going up against an Olympian. I find that with some clients, but they get here and realise that it’s way easier and more accessible than they thought it was. Guests sometimes think there’s only going to be one mindset because they’re out with a former professional athlete, but there’s not: I’m 45 now, I’m lazy too!

Want to turn your passion into a business like Simon? Find out more about how you can become an Airbnb host while receiving bespoke support from Athlete365 by clicking here.