The sharing economy is allowing normal folks like you and me to make money in ways that were never possible before, doing things we love. This is how I’ve used platforms like blogging, Airbnb, and TripAdvisor to launch food tours in Panama City and Bogotá.
In 2014, I launched a food tour in Panama City called Panama Detour that grew to be wildly successful. I was able to promote the tour through my blog and then began asking clients to write reviews on TripAdvisor. Now, it’s one of the top tours in the city with over 170 positive reviews.
What made my tour different was that it delivered a truly authentic experience of Panama City big tour groups cannot deliver. I met up with groups at their hotel and asked if there were specific things they wanted to do or if they preferred to be spontaneous—every tour I hosted was different.
During the tour, we got around on foot and used the city’s new metro and bus system, visiting up to five food and drink stops (all included). We’d usually visit the historic district and other eclectic local neighborhoods while sampling various dishes. Or we’d head to an exclusive rooftop at sunset for cocktails and walk back alleyways filled with street art, sample the world’s most expensive coffee, and uncover the local craft beer scene.
I’ve always been confident that if I were to ever move to a new city, I could replicate what I was doing in Panama. So, after seven-plus years of living in the small isthmus and hosting over 300 tours, I was ready for a new adventure… and I was set on Bogotá, Colombia.
Colombia is one of the cheapest places to fly to from Panama City (flights are as low as US$120 for a round-trip on Wingo). Plus, I had already visited Bogotá and Medellín, at least six times each. In the end, I decided Bogotá was more my style. Medellín attracted many people, but I saw that Colombia’s capital offered a great opportunity to start a blog and food tour.
Bogotá is a city often misunderstood and described as harsh by travelers. They arrive and limit their stay to the backpacker Candelaria neighborhood (which can be sketchy at night). It can feel cold, gritty, and overwhelming with a population of over 8 million people. However, Bogotá is a city with secrets to be discovered—perfect for starting a tourist-focused business.
During a five-day trip to Bogotá in May 2018, I got all the content I needed for the initial launch of the blog. I named it “Bogotivo,” a combination of the word Bogotá and the Spanish word nativo (native). I want visitors to feel like natives when they come to Bogotá.
After launching the blog, I moved to Bogotá full-time in August 2018 and spent the first few months creating the tour route and deciding on the best food stops. I knew the type of stops to look for, how to write a good description, and what photos to take. My problem was finding an audience for the blog, as it was new and the tour had no reviews on TripAdvisor yet.
Luckily, in 2016, Airbnb launched a feature on their website called “Airbnb Experiences,” which has been slowly expanding to over 1,000 cities worldwide. What I love about the platform is that it connects you with locals that provide a unique experience in their city—basically what I was doing in Panama City.
They launched the Experiences feature for Bogotá in early 2018 when there were only a few tours advertised. They had the audience I needed, so I uploaded a description, photos, and other details. I received my first booking just a few days later and now my partner and I are hosting about three tours a week with over 60 positive reviews.
I do this tour in collaboration with my partner Giovanni. He manages the Instagram account while I work on the website content. We market the tour as an “urban food tour with local bloggers.”
The tour starts in the bohemian La Macarena neighborhood where we visit a busy food market to sample Bogotá’s traditional soup, Colombian empanadas, and drink exotic fruit juices. Then, we walk to an Argentinian bakery for a delicious passionfruit pie. From here we take the bus to Chapinero, known as the hipster area of Bogotá. In this neighborhood, you’ll find Bogotá’s under-30 creatives, young professionals, and students. While in Chapinero, we visit two local eateries and sip on locally brewed coffee. Then, we take the bus to a rooftop with an incredible view at sunset to try local Colombian liquor. The day ends at a secret speakeasy bar in the lively entertainment district’s Zona T for craft beer or cocktails.
Now that I’ve done it twice in two different cities using different platforms to get the word out, I can confidently say that this is a replicable business model. The first step is to find a niche—for me it was the local experience.
Once you’re established in a city, you might also find that you can reveal an insider’s perspective to tourists… but you can also follow your passion or expertise. Have experience in coffee cupping? Love bird-watching? Wine tasting? Fishing? Molecular gastronomy? You can turn just about anything into a customized tour model, and this is the key—customized and niche. You’ll never make a dent in an established tourist market doing all the same monuments… so get creative.
Through our tours, we’ve met so many incredible travelers that became our friends. I’m glad that with Bogotivo I have the chance to share my passion for food and city life with visitors. One of my favorite things to hear from people is that they weren’t enjoying Bogotá, but after taking our tour, they were ready to move here!
Using a platform like Airbnb Experiences is an easy way to make money as an expat in your new city. Do you have a passion for cooking? Host cooking classes at your home. Do you like to drink? Create a pub crawl. Are you a history buff? Take people on a historic walking tour. The options are endless…