Airbnb: Looking through the Local Lens

Last month, we wrote about Citibank’s discount promotion for booking Airbnb stays up to July 31,2016. A few of you wrote to us asking us more about Airbnb, which made us think, why did we never write about it before?!

Long back, I had shared with you all how my first holiday with Ajay in 2013 almost led to a break up.  Ajay asked me to choose a property to book in Goa and I opted for a nice vacation villa. Ajay tried convincing me to choose a chain hotel such as a Hyatt or a Marriott. Instead I stuck to my love for boutique hideout holiday homes and decided to book a 100-year old charming, riverside Portugese villa in a quaint village named Aldona.

Image Courtesy: The Only Olive

Now when I think back, I remember how finding that vacation home was a daunting task for me. My initial search for vacation rentals threw up a number of websites, none of which I had heard about before. But that was not all; even after shortlisting a few places that I liked from the pictures and descriptions, there was no assurance of how the homes would turn out to be when we arrived there.

Lastly, and most importantly, the money. I figured that the two places we finalized asked us for a full advance payment. They did not accept credit cards and payment needed to be done via a bank transfer only. How could I trust a person I had never met, spoken to, or heard about? My only source of information was the internet and there are so many fraud stories floating around.I vividly remember that Ajay transferred the money only 2 days before our stay, although that was not the first time I was booking a vacation home.

I have lived in Paris for a couple of years and during that time I travelled across Europe. Everywhere I went right from Italy to Belgium to Germany, I booked a vacation rental through Airbnb. And through this entire ordeal of hunting down places, talking to owners/travel agents, bargaining on room nights (Yes! I noticed that different prices were quoted on various websites for the same place) and then finally making the bank transfer and praying to God that it would all turn out ok was really painful, I did sort of miss the convenience of using Airbnb.

What is Airbnb?

For those of you new to Airbnb, Airbnb is an online marketplace where people rent out their shared room, spare room and entire property for guests to book and stay during vacation.  The main difference between booking an Airbnb stay versus staying in a hotel is that an Airbnb rental is more of a homestay, although today you can even find luxury accommodation, like this in Bali and these luxury tent suits at Sariska Tiger Reserve in Rajasthan.

Airbnb Bali

Airbnb Rajasthan

The hosts renting out their homes write a brief description about their place, upload pictures, specify the house rules they want the guests to follow and share booking terms and conditions. The guests can then find a place that suits their needs with the help of multiple search criteria. Overall for the guests the website is quite easy and intuitive to use.

I have used Airbnb multiples times to book my stays in Europe and  here’s why I think you may want to take a break from the chain hotels and live like locals in Airbnb homes.

It provides good value for staying at premium destinations – In  my  view Airbnb’s primary appeal lies in its offer of value stays in popular tourist destinations. This is particularly true in megapolises such as London, Paris and New York or during the peak periods of travel, such as the Sunburn festival in Goa, an annual music festival that happens yearend when all hotel prices in Goa are sky rocketing.

A year back, I was helping a client at work plan a trip to Paris with his wife during the December holiday season. He was adamant on booking a moderate hotel at  200EUR a night, which was quite far out from the Paris city centre. He actually thought that it was very good deal as not a single hotel in Paris during the holiday season was selling for less than 400 EUR. Finally I found him an Airbnb studio for 95 EUR per night in the centre of Paris.

This is what he wrote to me after the trip – “We had only 4 days to complete my trip and wanted to get the feel of the city without stressing ourselves too much. Thank you for sourcing an Airbnb apartment right next to the Louvre museum. When I shared my need to drink Indian style masala chai every morning, my host made arrangements to equip the kitchen with all ingredients required to brew masala tea. In one sentence, my wife loved our local stay and I got the brownie points for it :)”

Airbnb Paris

The Airbnb peer-review system generates trust –Airbnb has this system where the host and guests both can leave reviews for each other. Not only that, Airbnb has instilled a “Verified ID” function which basically matches the hosts’ offline documentation, like photographs with online identities, for example through Facebook. My choice of Airbnb apartment in Milan was solely based on the host’s authenticity. Airbnb also connects through Facebook so you can easily find out if anyone you know has rented the place before. Plus there is the opportunity to contact previous guests who have stayed at the rental. I made good use of this as we were a group of girlfriends travelling and a safe place was of prime importance to us.

Living like locals can be real fun – Yes, I had to lug my own bags to the rental home in Belgium, make my own coffee every morning and dispose off the garbage bag myself but the entire feeling of living among the locals, shopping at the local farmers’ market and living within walking distance of the canal is an experience in itself.

 It allows me to earn points on my spending  – Ajay’s biggest grudge during our first Goa holiday was that he did not get any return for the money spent. I did not understand it back then but I do practice it now. So, unlike most traditional Bed and Breakfasts in India which still don’t accept plastic money, all payments on Airbnb need to be done through electronic mediums. In the process Airbnb makes money by taking a percentage from the hosts as well as the guests. Now there are 2 good things here. I get to earn points on my credit card spending and I no longer have to fret about who I am transferring my money to.

Bottomline:

Today Airbnb operates across 34,000 cities in 191 countries. The platform usually has an option for every budget and if you make an impromptu travel, you could find a great accommodation within your budget. Having said that I’m not giving up my newly found love for chain hotels but yes once in a while it’s a great idea to take a break and stay in hideaway home.  So, if you are thinking about an Airbnb stay this year don’t forget to make use of Citi’s 15% discount that is valid for another week. If you do not have an Airbnb account, you could sign up using our Airbnb referral link, and you get about USD 20/INR 1200 in credit, which you can apply towards your reservation.

Have you ever booked your stay through Airbnb ? Share with us your experience.

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