Disney, virtual reality, Airbnb – Bruce Vaughn brings an “experience”

Bruce Vaughn has immersed people’s imaginations throughout his career, from deep space in “Star Trek V: The Final Frontier”, to the breathtaking Indiana Jones ride at Disney World, to the virtual reality playground. known as Dreamscape. But as he settles into his fifth week as the new leader of Airbnb’s Experiential Creative Products team, he leaves the fantasy world with a vision resolutely turned to the real world – the more authentic, the better. .

“It got me excited to let people experience the world in new ways,” said Vaughn, a resident of Sonoma.

Airbnb is well established in the vacation rental industry, with $ 1.3 billion in revenue released in the second quarter of 2021 alone. The popularity of homestays continues to rise during the pandemic, in part because, unlike hotels, access to other people is limited.

Vaughn, however, is focusing on a different kind of rental. Since its launch in 2016, Airbnb has seen the development of its “Experiences” line of activity, which provides access to a wide range of activities, from the most anticipated, such as local cooking classes, to the most unusual, such as going out. with a pack of dogs in Chernobyl.

“Frankly this (team) is irresistible to me,” said Vaughn, explaining that he has always loved the type of travel that allows him to soak up the culture, get to know the locals and experience something special. authentic.

“It’s the authenticity that comes from the hosts, who aren’t just local but love what they do,” Vaughn said of the people who create the experiences posted on Airbnb.

His passion for the magic of a deeply enchanting experience was born out of one of the most influential films of all time: “Star Wars”. At 14, he begged his father to take him to the George Lucas classic. Her father was not a fan of movies; descended from whalers in Sag Harbor, New York, he was the city’s pragmatic attorney, “kind of an Atticus Finch type,” Vaughn said.

“Luckily my dad loved ‘Star Wars’ too,” he said. “All of my friends wanted to be characters like Han Solo or Princess Leia. I wanted to be George Lucas.

After graduating from Colgate University, Vaughn worked at Associates & Ferren, a special effects company run by his first mentor Bran Ferren, who worked on everything from “Little Shop of Horrors” to world touring. by Paul McCartney. In 1993, entertainment giant Disney bought the company shortly after Vaughn’s team helped redesign Disney’s famous Tower of Terror, perfecting the terrifying elevator descent. Before that, ironically, Vaughn had never been to a theme park.

“Suddenly I was a fantasy,” said Vaughn, the term used for the creative minds who bring Disney magic to life in its theme parks, resorts and other places of entertainment.

Suddenly her job was to bring pop culture’s most beloved worlds to life, such as Pandora from “Avatar”, Carsland from “Cars” and even the land of “Star Wars”, Galaxy’s Edge. He rose through the ranks to the Creative Director of Disney Imagineering, overseeing projects all over the world, from Shanghai Disney to cruise ships.

“It’s about bringing these characters, these stories to life,” he said.

In his next role, as CEO of virtual reality startup Dreamscape, he sought to create an even more fantastic experience. His clients would no longer just see a whole new world, with virtual reality they could experience it – embark on adventures to fly with dragons or swim in the ocean alongside whales. It started in 2017, the same year Vaughn and her husband Billy bought a house in Mission Highlands of Sonoma.

The sale ended the first week of October, just before the Sisters’ fire destroyed hundreds of homes. Vaughn remembers watching the house on home security cameras when there was a flash when the power was out. “We thought, ‘This is it, let’s go,’ Vaughn said. “But we were lucky.”

At first, the couple divided their time between Silver Lake in Los Angeles and Sonoma, but when the pandemic hit, they moved north full time. He’s been visiting since 1993, when a trip with Disney introduced him to the vast world of wine. He said he particularly enjoyed the drinks at the Beacon, the underground bar at the Taub Family Outpost, as well as the oysters at Oso with Meg the bartender.

After a career focused on the imagination, Vaughn is ready for a dose of reality. He will lead efforts to expand Airbnb’s experiential offerings, bringing together more hosts and creative meetups around the world.

“Ultimately, this will be the best way to experience the world,” said Vaughn. “You get a local host giving you the inside scoop, and now we’re adding experiences to that.”

Alison Holberton, who oversees global consumer communications and Airbnb products, said there are currently tens of thousands of experiences. Hosts set their own prices, and Airbnb takes a 20% service charge on all transactions. Local examples include encountering rescued animals at Charlie’s Acres, Candle making Sonoma 707 candle lessons from Glen Ellen, and cheese making with Sheana Davis of Epicurean Connection, among dozens of others.

As for what the future holds, “this is something Bruce is creating, we’ve never done it before, so it will be up to him to develop it,” Holberton said.

Vaughn said, “These are not characters, these are the real deal. And it’s much better for me.

Contact Emily Charrier at [email protected].

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