Down-to-Earth Thoughts about Airbnb

The quality of accommodation and service available through Airbnb is less predictable and more variable than that available from either a traditional bed and breakfast establishment or a hotel. Here are some of the reasons why, plus a few thoughts about how to avoid the pitfalls.

These observations are based on Airbnb experiences in Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan and South Africa. The brackets refer to relevant countries and territories.

The Airbnb market is immature and the cost of entry is negligible.

The cost of renting out a room in a flat or house via Airbnb is very low and tempting for anyone with the available space and the inclination to generate extra cash. Alternatively, it can prove a simple business start-up for a budding entrepreneur. For a new business it requires minimal preparation.

The consequence is that customers may be dealing with, say, a long-term tenant offering their flat for two weeks to subsidise a holiday without reference either to their landlord or the existence of appropriate insurance (Hong Kong); or, at another extreme, renting from a landlord who is himself renting a number of such properties on an annual basis to sublet to holiday-makers (Indonesia). In either case, the attention to service quality can be negligible.

There are also cases where the owner of the property either through age, infirmity or shortsightedness, rather than disinclination, is unable to remove dirt, cobwebs and dust all too visible to the customer (Canada).

Management of the property can be remote and unresponsive.

In a bed and breakfast establishment, where the owner/manager will be meeting customers on a daily basis, the incentive to look after their comforts and preferences will be much stronger. Similarly, in a hotel the proprietors or professional staff will be more attuned to customer service.

For Airbnb properties, proprietors can be remote or unresponsive or their representatives unversed in property management (South Africa). Such considerations are less likely to occur when the chosen Airbnb property entails cohabitation with the owners but that is not everyone’s preference.

How to avoid the pitfalls?

A picture is worth a thousand words

But pictures can also lie. A wide-angle lens and a carefully selected shot can make the pokiest accommodation look inviting. Don’t rely much on the image. Read the description very carefully.

Check the reviews

But do so carefully. Airbnb no doubt check such postings but one is occasionally tempted to doubt their authenticity. Look for hints of criticism and take them seriously.

Check the location

Assertions that a property is conveniently located for a given town or city can be deceptive (South Africa). Make sure the travel time and distance is something with which you are comfortable and the area in which you will be staying is acceptable.

Look for extras

The ability to borrow items such as bicycles (Belgium, France, Germany), or horses (Canada), has proved a reliable indicator of spotlessly clean, welcoming and comfortable accommodation. Usage is not obligatory but it is nice to know you can saddle up should you feel so inclined.

Such establishments also offer better toiletries (finding just a half-full dispenser of liquid soap in the bathroom is tiresome), well-stocked refrigerators and, occasionally local delicacies (Belgium) and even a bottle of champagne (France).

Be honest

Do a good deed, write a review and be honest. No need to be brutal but a fair review will help other people make the best choice. It will also encourage those who don’t meet acceptable standards either to improve or leave the market.

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