Like many people around the world, Olympian Pita Taufatofua had major summer travel plans canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic. The Tongan athlete, who bore his country’s flag at two Olympic opening ceremonies, was at his Brisbane, Australia, home when he got the news that the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games had been postponed.
It would have been Taufatofua’s second trip to Japan, a country he fell in love with during his first visit. But he’s making the most of the delay.
“Now, I’ve got a whole year to enjoy [being an Olympic qualifier] and to prepare as well, so I’m excited,” said Taufatofua, who is trying to be the first person in history to qualify for three unrelated Olympic sports. (He has competed in Olympic taekwondo and cross-country skiing; his next goal is to qualify for kayaking.)
This month, Taufatofua will take a break from mastering the kayak to host a master class on perseverance through Airbnb Online Experiences. The session is part of a summer festival of Olympian and Paralympian Airbnb Online Experiences featuring more than 100 elite athletes.
The five-day series begins July 24 and is a collaboration between Airbnb, the International Olympic Committee and the International Paralympic Committee.
“We decided to have this moment of celebration that launches next week on the day that the games would have started in Tokyo,” said Catherine Powell, head of Airbnb Experiences.
Olympians and Paralympians have been a part of Online Experiences since Airbnb launched the service during the pandemic. The site now has a filter dedicated to the category so potential customers can easily browse opportunities, such as motivational coaching from bobsled Olympic medalist Lauren Gibbs and a core workout with Olympic pole vaulter Pauls Pujats.
Airbnb says the program has created economic opportunities for the athletes while also giving their fans a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
“We saw this amazing response from our guests, who were able to kind of get up close and personal with these heroic icons,” Powell said. “[The festival] was a very natural progression from having all these athletes on the platform anyway.”
The festival sessions, which Powell said should cost an average of $25 each, will vary widely in focus, featuring health and fitness seminars, motivational speaking, cooking demonstrations and more.
Syrian swimmer Yusra Mardini, who became a member of the first IOC Refugee Olympic Team in 2016, is hosting a workshop on resilience. Tennis superstar Naomi Osaka is showcasing her quarantine training routine during a festival session. Four-time world champion surfer Carissa Moore is teaching a beach workout from Oahu, Hawaii.
Taufatofua has put together an outline, not a script, for his July 28 workshop on perseverance.
“To me, it’s important that the experience is real, that people who are watching it don’t feel that it’s anything scripted,” he said. “There’s a bit of talking in it, but there’s a whole lot of interaction where I find out about their goals, their dreams, things that they haven’t been able to achieve in life, and I’ll use examples from my Olympic journey to help them.”
Organizers hope that while the festival is taking place through screens, it can heal some of the pain of Tokyo 2020′s postponement.
“We should all be in Tokyo next week, and they’re not,” Powell said. “[The festival] is not just an economic opportunity for many of them, but it’s an opportunity for them to connect with fans who love sports.”
Powell says that people who sign up for festival sessions will have a more personal experience with Olympians than if they were attending the Games in person. Like the other online experiences, the number of participants will be limited to enable more intimate interactive exchange.
For example, Tokyo 2020 attendees may have seen Taufatofua don his signature opening ceremony outfit for the third time, but participants in his experiences will get to hear him explain its origin story.
Airbnb will live stream and record some of the sessions to make them available later.