If the accommodation on your trip is part of the surprise factor you crave on your vacation, then Airbnb is for you. In the multi-special-interest, diversified travel-across-the-globe environment in which we live, there is room for every conceivable innovation and an audience ready to embrace it.
I just returned from a 19-day trip to Croatia and Montenegro, fascinating countries with wonderful people, incredible sites and amazing food, and for the first time ever, we used Airbnb. We initially booked stays in seven different cities and ended up cancelling three of them and re-booking with Airbnb for more “appropriate” accommodation.
Three places were brilliant, friendly, helpful, wonderful and comfortable and I would love to stay with them again.
But we walked out of one place to check into a nice four-star hotel. One place featured a “bird-perch” toilet, installed on the edge of the ledge that prevents the shower water from inundating the floor; you had to back onto the toilet to use it. In another place the creaky floors were so loud that sleep was impossible when other tenants were home. One had mold; another forgot to mention that while it was a 25-minute walk to the Old City, it would take considerably longer (and considerable energy) to return, up a very steep hill.
With the goal of not stereotyping one great Airbnb experience or one bad Airbnb experience as a typical encounter, here are 10 things you may wish to communicate with clients who ask for your thoughts on using the online home-sharing service.
Don’t change your travel lifestyle. Airbnb is not a hostel or backpacker alternative to staying in hotels; it’s an opportunity to stay in a home or apartment and enjoy a bit more local flavor and local contact. Don’t down-sell your accommodation choice; in the spirit of upselling, find a place that responds to the lifestyle you are used to.
The site’s filters are very important and hold the key to finding suitable accommodation. Room Type determines whether you want an entire place to yourself or just a room in a house or apartment. We realized a few days before departure that we had booked a room; when the host confirmed we’d be sharing a bathroom with her family, we cancelled and rebooked.
More Filters. This is where you list your expectations: the number of beds and washrooms, whether you want a television and Wifi or if you are bringing your Pooch on the trip. But be cautious when checking the filtered list of accommodations; sometimes “two beds” means one bed and a couch, and Wifi means that Wifi is possible, but there is no promise of availability. One of our accommodations had no Wifi and therefore we couldn’t even email the host.
Love your Smart Phone. Airbnb is very internet and/or text dependent – emails confirming the booking, emails reminding you of the booking, emails reminding you to review the experience after the booking. On our trip I did not bring my phone, only a laptop, so I spent an inordinate amount of time reconfirming with each host, arranging where and when to meet to pick up the key, asking for more precise directions (“just find your way to the amphitheatre and you’ll find us.” NOT!). Bus terminals and even some buses in Croatia offer Wifi but it’s not always available, leaving us with no way of contacting the host who was waiting for us.
Interact with the Host. An Airbnb veteran told us that the key to a successful stay is to establish a relationship with the host. So we emailed them, and everyone seemed to be friendly and welcoming. Only later did we think about very specific questions we should have asked: the actual walking distance to the city center, the availability of grocery stores, the proximity of buses, etc.
Once you decide on a short list of places, check out the reviews. Some “negatives” turned out to be fine with us; in Havr we had to climb 79 steps to get to our apartment but the view was great and the apartment was one of our favorites. So take the comments lightly and ask a lot of questions.
Free, Free, Set Me Free. This is the Sting song we sang as we realized late at night that as soon as the air conditioner was turned off, the smell of mold pervaded the room. Then the neighbors turned on their porch light, which shone through the glass front door of our apartment, making it pretty difficult to sleep. We were trapped! Where are you going to go in a sold-out city at that late hour? If it had been a hotel, we would have switched rooms: end of discussion.
Cleaning up. Our attitude was that we were staying in someone’s place. Before we checked out, we cleaned up as best we could and where the host provided refreshments, we left a thank you note. Not necessary in a hotel.
Watch the Cancellation Policies. Cancellation policies vary. When we changed three of our accommodations (cancelled and re-booked) and then departed only a few hours after checking into another, we lost all of our money (though I have since heard tales of people demanding refunds of the hosts in return for not writing a negative review). But for the sake and sanity of our vacation, we felt it was worth it.
Who’s Zooming Whom? For our first stop, when we tried to provide feedback, the system said we were too late. On the surveys filled out within the time limit, we were asked to comment on the experience or send a note of thanks to the host, and the host was asked to review us! When is the last time you checked out of a Westin (or Comfort Inn) and received the manager’s review of how you behaved? Please!
I have mixed feelings about the Airbnb experience. We did have unique experiences that allowed us to connect with the destination on a local basis. We were part of the neighborhood, could buy food and a bottle of wine at the market and have lunch or dinner in our kitchen, sometimes overlooking the Adriatic. I would use Airbnb again, but I would be extremely diligent, sceptical and cautious.
As a travel consultant you know commission structures vary from hotel chain to hotel. At present there are few if any commission opportunities for booking Airbnb. But it is your expertise in the world of travel that clients depend on and therefore the more you know about travel options, the more credibility you have as a “Travel-the-World Specialist.”