House-sharing giant, Airbnb started in 2008. And it's been growing from strength to strength ever since - despite some countries banning it all together. In 2016, it launched 'Airbnb Experiences', which are unique activities designed by local hosts, like surfing with a Capetonian in Muizenberg or wine tasting with students in Stellenbosch.
Recently, Airbnb expanded its offering even further, adding 'Animal Experiences' to its portfolio. Airbnb is now hoping to launch north of 40 000 animal experiences, in over 1 000 cities across the world.
Meet the world's most intriguing animals, basically.
But when you hear 'Animal Experiences' for profit, you tend to approach with caution. How can this be ethical? Airbnb says that its new offering will allow people to "better understand animals through caring, expert hosts and set a new standard for animal tourism."
This is not lions in a cages, zoos or close interactions with wild animals, like lion cub petting.
"With 1 000 Experiences co-hosted by over 300 species and their human advocates, guests can now paddleboard with corgis, kayak with conservationists, learn alongside urban beekeepers or skateboard with a world record-winning bulldog!" says Airbnb.
You will have the opportunity to see animals in places that allow for "gentle observation and bring a sense of connection far beyond animal selfies or performances. For those seeking more adventure, guests can discover arctic foxes or even help rescue puppies lost within the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone."
Guidelines were created in consultation with World Animal Protection, an organisation committed to improving the lives of animals. Underpinned by a new, industry-leading animal welfare policy, any experience that hampers the welfare and/or conservation of wild or domesticated animals will be removed from Airbnb.
"All Experiences must meet certain quality and eligibility standards before being offered to guests, and every host must demonstrate expertise relevant to the Experience they host. Additionally, hosts of Animal Experiences must comply with our industry-leading animal welfare policy, co-authored by World Animal Protection.
"Our mission is to encourage hosts to improve their practices to further the mission of safe animal welfare for all animals, so hosts have the opportunity to rejoin the platform upon adhering to Airbnb animal policies and guidelines," an Airbnb spokesperson told Traveller24.
That means no animal selfies, no elephant interactions, no wild animals for direct interactions with travellers, or in performances or shows to list a few. But within this shared economy, we can't help but wonder: How will this be monitored and how can we be 100% sure, as travellers wanting to buy these experiences, that standards are upheld in terms of the animal's welfare?
How do we know that the adorable corgi on that paddleboard isn't pimped out just for profit?