A couple of bloggers I consider real friends got into interesting discussions around the legacies of Airbnb and Uber. Is what they’ve created better than what they replaced, or is their position in the market improving travel? Those kinda questions.
Uber got a pass, thanks to the tech advancements its brought to car service. You can see where the driver is, book from a central location and the safety features are truly fantastic now. Things were less positive when the discussion turned to Airbnb.
While I hear them, and there are certainly things I don’t love about Airbnb, I think it’s a tremendously important part of travel, and one that I spend more with annually than hotels.
In defense of Airbnb, here’s why I’m a fan, despite some shortcomings.
Legitimate Reasons To Be Frustrated With Airbnb
I’m not delusional. There are things within the Airbnb ecosystem that frustrate me, from fees to policies. Quite simply, there’s just a lot of gouging and a lot of inconsistent care applied.
What Happened To Easy Payments?
Years ago, Airbnb proudly proclaimed booking would become easier than ever. With easy options to split payments among friends, and to put down deposits, rather than entire stay amounts, people could book more confidently. What happened there?
With few exceptions, where I occasionally find a listing with more flexible options, these friendly features are nowhere to be found. I’m presented with no choice but to pay in full and booking flexibility is among the worst in the business.
Flexibility Is Hardly Flexible
This is down to listers, not the Airbnb platform — but it still matters. Airbnb has failed to iterate with multiple rate options, like offering rock bottom deals for no flex rates, or higher prices with hotel “refundable rate” flexibility built in.
I try to book at least a month in California during peak UK winter, and I find it really difficult to commit serious cash far in advance, knowing i’ll fully eat it if plans change. This creates unnecessary hassle and impedes my ability to book early.
Airbnb Fees Are Extortionate
It’s one thing for hosts to add cheeky fees not included in the initial price onto listings, but ultimately that is a risk they take. They may, and often do, lose bookings because of that lack of transparency.
But Airbnb is guilty here too. The service fees charged by the platform on each listing are excessive. On one of my month long California stays, Airbnb was taking a service fee of more than $2000. For that price, I could hire an attorney to handle any service issues.
Another booking or two at that level would pay a solid monthly customer support role salary. Of course, I, nor the host, ever made contact with Airbnb during the stay. Enjoy the tip, Airbnb?
Neighborhoods Under Threat?
I think on a net basis, Airbnb is doing more good than bad with its role in cities and neighborhoods around the world. Why? Because it’s up to these places to decide what role Airbnb can play there. It’s also up to communities to tackle bad behavior.
Doing nothing to curb listings may be the right solution in some places, while limiting the scope of Airbnb listings may be correct in others. Palm Springs has actually done a very good job of creating rules which don’t suppress local home ownership, or ruin the experience for locals.
You don’t want to drive locals out of an area with landlords opening Airbnb “hotels” instead of apartments, but you also can’t overlook the positives from of out of town visitors spending money in wider communities.
The Airbnb Positives Are Huge Though
You’ve already got nearly 400 words of why Airbnb isn’t perfect, so it’s time to touch on the positives. There are many. From democratizing prices to highlighting destinations and mending the family travel void left wide open by hotels, a lot of good has come.
Family Travel Opportunities
Hotels have let arguably archaic room occupancy policies and lack of imagination with guest room spaces hamper family travel for decades. Multiple rooms, sometimes not connected, you get the picture.
Sure, this is niche to family travel, but it is quite a big market. In hotels, I hate not being able to quickly prepare food for my daughter, forced to rely on limited, hit or miss room service or venture out in a pinch.
Airbnb has opened up so many vital elements to family travel, from cooking facilities to more bedrooms, privacy and storage space. Listings in more locations also means more opportunity to stay in the most surgically beneficial areas for a given stay.
Airbnb has become a tool of inspiration in travel, and the value of that can’t be overstated. People get inspired by specific architects, properties or amenities and book vacations they would’ve never otherwise taken. Sometimes, to places which aren’t on the trending destinations list. Sometimes, somewhere local.
In major cities, listings go farther and wider than big box hotels. Instead of just Times Square benefiting from first time trips to New York, more of Manhattan, Queens, the Bronx, Brooklyn and others can benefit. People stay in these areas, eat, buy things and discover new parts of a city.
No More One Size Fits All
Vacations rentals existed long before Airbnb, but a centralized booking facility, with the plethora of new protections and amenities Airbnb is now offering, did not.
Much like Uber made booking taxi’s easier, Airbnb has added confidence to the home share market. Think no further than what it means to say “I booked an Airbnb” now, as opposed to 10 years ago.
10 years ago Airbnb and “cheap” were probably synonymous. It was born out of desire to beat hotel prices in San Francisco. Listings were basically couch surfing. Now, many of the worlds finest homes, apartments and penthouses are on the platform. There are also defined levels, such as ‘Airbnb Plus’, which provides hotel standard amenities.
Airbnb isn’t as much about savings, as customization. I can get what I want. It exists, somewhere. Whatever it may be.
If you want a three bedroom house with a pool and a barbecue, you can get that. For a group of friends, colleagues or family getting together in a given destination, that may very well be better than any hotel. If you want to couch surf to make a trip affordable, it’s that too.
Income Opportunities For More People
I’m not a fan of people who open hundreds of Airbnb’s and effectively operate as hoteliers in all but name. There’s a reason hotels have safety rules and governance. I am a fan of people being able to create income from a space, or place they have, to better its utilization.
If someone is able to give themselves a better experience in life thanks to side income from the Airbnb platform, that’s pretty cool. If it better utilizes spaces, which eliminates a need for more development, that’s pretty cool too.
Safety is often an illusion in life, but controlling environments can help. Particularly during the health issues of recent years, having a place where you could control the flow of people was huge.
For many travelers, it still is. Whether it’s allowing a family retreat where everyone can truly unwind, or just a place where you feel comfortable sitting around the pool, sans Instagram Live influencers, there’s a lot of benefit to controlling your vacation space.
Airbnb: My Experiences Have Been Great
I’ve never had to walk out of an Airbnb. I’ve stayed in more than 40 cities globally and I’ve never had an issue. I know people who’ve stayed once, hated it, had issues and are now staunch critics.
With hotels, airlines, Airbnb’s and anything in travel, I hate negative experiences. At the same time, I don’t let a single negative define a larger movement. It may define my bit of participation, but if it’s working for many, it’s probably working.
Airbnb could improve in many ways, from a more compelling loyalty program to a new set of fees, based on some level of reason. Despite this, it’s made a huge impact on the world of travel, and in my opinion, the positives outweigh the negatives.