Admittedly, I have absolutely no firsthand knowledge or experience in the newest—Fad? Craze? “Good Deal”?—“thing” in the hospitality world. The “newest thing”, of course, if you have not guessed it already, is Airbnb.
The bnb stands for bed and breakfast, whilst the Air part harks back to the founders’ air mattress they bought and used for their first foray into the BnB business, which they did to help pay the rent on their loft in San Francisco. And, since they had entrepreneurial minds, one thing led to another and then to another, and lo, today they are the proud, and rich, developers of Airbnb (airbnb.com).
My part in all this, my challenge, is to write a pro and con article concerning this “new” hospitality model.
First off, the concept is not new—hence the quotation marks used above—, as extra rooms or space or summer type homes that are not occupied year-round, have been advertised in newspapers and magazines for years. What’s new and innovative, is that now the space renters can advertise their space on the web through various letting agencies, such as airbnb.com.
And even though the branding retains the breakfast part, in most cases, it’s not breakfast by the owner as in a normal BnB, but breakfast by the occupant(s). In many cases, perhaps in most, the owner/manager of the space rented never comes into direct contact with the occupant-to-be; at least that’s my understanding. Everything is arranged directly through the impersonality of THE WEB.
Let me list what I consider the DARK SIDE of the present model; the cons:
Lack of health oversight — Being as the majority of the spaces are in private houses, whether the whole house or just a bedroom and perhaps a common area or a private apartment, etc., they are not licensed and they are not subject to health department scrutiny. In essence, you are a guest in a private home, and thus, in essence, at your own risk.
Quality of mattress — It is conceivable and probable , that the mattress you will sleep on is considerably older, considerably more lumpy or saggy or both, and perhaps half the depth of a standard hotel mattress. And that mattress, depending on what country you are visiting, will not be atop a box spring, but atop a single layer of springs within a metal frame.
Quality of room furniture — More than likely second or third rate and quite old, with rotted areas here and there and, if you are lucky, termite and/or bug-free.
Lighting — Depends on what part of the world you are in, but undoubtedly, if you expect the same type/kind of lighting that you get at home in the United States, you will be disappointed. Also, voltage variation: 120/220, etc.
Bathroom facilities — Again, depending on what part of the world you are in, but in most cases, will be serviceable but old looking, perhaps veined through much use, and with chipped porcelain here and there. In many places, also, hot water is not available 24 hours a day.
Location — If you are the adventurous type, generally speaking, the further you are away from the so-called tourist section(s) the cheaper the cost, but that also may mean that you may have to take a taxi, a bus, or a train to get to those tourist traps—and those can eat up your ready cash in a hurry. Also, be aware that just as in the United States, there are less than desirable neighborhoods, especially at night, and your location may well be right in that neighborhood. RENTER BEWARE!
Kitchen facilities — Stoves, microwaves, hot plates, etc., are not all the same, and except for the basic stove, everything else, especially if it requires electricity to run, may be non-existent or worse, fuse-blowing, if the circuit—and your space may have only one circuit—is overloaded with other electrical devices. As for stoves, they come in all varieties and complexities, depending on whether it’s gas, electrical, or wood/charcoal burning (yes, they still have them and use them).
Bathing facilities — Bathtub? Shower? Both? And, of course, do you have to preheat the water or is hot water readily available throughout the day, and don’t forget water pressure . . . and water availability.
Air-conditioning/Heating — Poor to non-existent by U.S. standards. Open windows (mostly non-screamed) to let the fresh air in, and heat may well be the fireplace or blankets.
Concierge/Main Desk/Bellhop, etc. — None. You are on your own.
Caveat: The above list of cons is by no means an all-inclusive one, nor is it designed to scare you away from an adventure. It is designed to make you aware that people and places outside your sphere of knowledge may be vastly different, and the better you are prepared for those differences, the better you will cope, and the better you cope, the less worries you will have, and the less worries you have, the more fun you will have, and the more fun you have, the more you will truly enjoy your adventure.
And now to the BRIGHT SIDE of the present model; the pros
Cleanliness — If you happen to remember the adage: Don’t judge a book by its cover, then apply that to exterior building appearances, which in many places, look as if they are falling apart (they are not). In my experience, and I’ve traveled extensively throughout Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, apartment and house interiors are kept very clean: floors, furniture, walls, etc. The exterior of a building’s rundown appearance has little to no correlation to the interior rooms.
Off the beaten path — Many, if not most, of the spaces advertised are off the beaten path, are in locations that the general tourist would never see, or hear about, for that matter. Many of these off the beaten paths are off the beaten path . . . literally: in secluded areas, in far away neighborhoods, in nearby towns, and on farms or in woods. If that’s what you are after, more power to you; just be aware of the limitations.
Mind, Heart, Soul Adventure — I believe that to truly get your money’s worth on any trip away from your home base, is to see, hear, smell, sense, touch, taste what the “locals” see, hear, smell, sense, touch, and taste. Yes, take the time to see and experience the best of the tourism, but spend the rest of your time getting to KNOW the culture you are visiting. You can get all the tourism from a book, but you cannot get what really matters, what’s really worth knowing— culture, understanding, enlightenment—from a book, only from having an open mind and a sense of adventure.
Again, TRAVELER, BEWARE!
General observations about Airbnb, as well as the current crop of hospitality bookings — I went into airbnb.com and looked at several places in various parts of the world. I selected several places that charged less than one hundred dollars a day and looked at the photos. They all looked really nice, but then, having been a photographer for many years, I know that photos can be manipulated, photoshopped, and can make rooms seem larger than they actually are. However, what really bothered me more than any of that, was the fact that many of these places also charge $25.00 plus dollars for cleaning, which is not included in the price quoted; nor does it state whether that cleaning fee is per day, or per stay. Just about all the more expensive hotel venues listed, don’t charge a cleaning fee, but they do charge, in more cases than not, a $50.00 dollar plus “resort fee”, but again, without stating whether it’s per day or for the stay.
In any case, the prices for what I saw, except for the resort type spaces, are more than reasonable, especially when compared to the local tourist type hotels, etc.
And just out of curiosity, I multiplied many of the prices I saw, multiplied them by seven, and came out to a price that was comparable to hundreds, perhaps thousands, of timeshare prices. Go figure!