Ian, a full-time investor, business owner, broadcaster and part-time host of After Dark in the Village and Holiday Shopping in the Gay Village! in Montreal, launched his experience hoping to expand the reach of his community. “I started out the summer with a goal of meeting 250 new people and I surpassed 500 folks from all over the world,” says Ian. Read on to find out how Ian adapts his experiences to connect with people visiting Montreal throughout the year, even during the chilly winter months.
Can you tell us about your background and how it shaped who you are and what you do now?
I grew up in a military family that moved every couple of years. I was exposed to a lot of different people and places which made me naturally curious as a kid. Our family hosted a lot of informal and formal functions and I always loved those parties.
After an early career as a press secretary on Parliament Hill, I created a public affairs agency and spent a lot of time explaining Canadian politics to people on TV, radio, and in newspapers. It’s an exhilarating and exhausting job and after nearly ten years I decided to step back from it all and really think about what motivates me and what kind of place I want to have in the world. I kept coming back to the ideas of hospitality and openness as being core to my values.
So I developed a series of queer walk-and-talks. They are a blend of campy highlights and historical anecdotes that help illuminate the community and our struggle for our health, rights and recognition. My experiences are in the style and spirit of Jane’s Walks, citizen-led walking tours that help reveal hidden histories. I welcome people from around the world to join me and learn more about the LGBTQ2S community in Montreal and Canada.
What motivates you to host an experience?
The reason I’m doing it is to keep meeting great folks from around the world. I think there are a bunch of hosts, like me, who have professional gigs during the day and love to meet and help travelers.
The reviews and feedback from guests after they go on a walk or shopping with me are also a huge motivator. Guests have great questions and make me think about my community in new ways. They also love actionable suggestions and opinions! I keep my prices pretty low and accessible, but there is also the motivation of having some extra spending money—it’s allowed me to make a few additional donations to local queer activist groups.
Hosting experiences also makes me a sharper speaker, writer, and researcher. Since starting the tour I’ve needed to find new stories and creative ways to weave together the past and present of the village.
I noticed you’ve updated your experience for Montreal’s low season and now offer a holiday shopping tour. Has that helped with bookings?
People are happy during the holidays, and I love shopping, so it seems like a natural fit to keep offering the experience for at least part of the winter. The holiday spirit is all about making connections, and Airbnb Experiences helps me do that with travelers who are looking for a special LGBTQ touch and a friendly face in a faraway place.
What factors do you think contribute to your success?
My experiences are informed by lots of practice and I suggest starting by holding a test run of your experience.
I also like the instant feedback you get during an experience. You can tell if guests are enjoying themselves or not. You can change and adapt. I listen with my eyes. I find if you do this you’ll have a better understanding of what’s going on. I consider group dynamics, whether people are fully understanding what you’re saying, and what they want to get out of the experience.
What are some lessons that you’ve learned?
In my After Dark experience, people broadly fit into two groups—those that want to learn the history and economics of the queer village while having a good time, and those that just want the salacious stories. You have to find a way to talk about HIV/AIDS, even gently, without ruining their night because it’s inappropriate to not mention such an important part of our history when giving a tour of the village. I found that it’s hard to do this well in a large group, so I cut down my group size which allows be to better understand why they’ve chosen my experience and then make sure their expectations are met.
Have you met other Experience Hosts?
I love taking other experiences—I “traded” with other hosts when we first started out. If you want to be good at hosting, you should do other experiences. I also participate in the Montreal Experiences Facebook Group and stay in touch with other hosts there. We’ve had a few in-person gatherings too. Having a support network is handy.
Have you made any interesting connections with guests?
My guests are amazing! I stay in touch with lots of them. I even helped one of them with a lesbian immigration case from Nigeria. Sometimes guests will message me after the experience, and we sometimes even go for coffee. In Montreal, there’s a likelihood of getting guests who are visiting for a couple of months. They use my experience as an introduction to the queer community and it can help them get their bearings in this big village. They have an easier time figuring things out from there.
Want to read another host’s success story? Check out How Robby launched a top experience in just 6 months.