Thanks to likes of Airbnb travelling has never been so easy. Gone are the days of schlepping it in a hostel or watching your entire budget disappear for a night of comfort at a hotel. The sharing economy has brought travel into local neighbourhoods, opening the door to a more authentic travel experience. Sure the majority of experiences are ace, that lift to the airport, extra blanket, or enough wifi to stream a whole season. But travelling with hosts over hotels has it’s risks.
In unmediated terrain where the hosts and guests interact freely, some odd things are bound to occur. Recently a confessional Facebook page, Post Secret, published the confession of an Airbnb host. Anonymously announcing as a host he secretly films couples having sex then shares and watches it with a wider network of hosts. Given the lack of evidence to backup the claim some are labelling it a hoax, but stories like this aren’t a one off.
Uber, it’s delicious offshoot Uber Eats, Car Next Door, Gumtree, eBay and Airbnb all exist on the power of people. Users interacting with each other, exchanging and organising in an online marketplace but the real world transactions can be exploited by people. Web chat like moderators redact and refine online conversations to protect users, but what about the danger that is everyday people. Airbnb’s head of security is ex military if you’re truly concerned.
Hiding behind an avatar and polite online chatter, jumping into the sharing economy does risk your privacy and safety. Alastair Loxton, CEO of Ministry of Villas an Asia villa specialist group and upmarket Airbnb alternative, said privacy is huge concern with such outlets.
“There is no privacy with the sharing economy. The business model relies on you having a public profile, usually linked to your social media profile, so you’re very much on the world stage.”
By placing a booking with Airbnb you’re trusting the system, praying the photos are an accurate description and hoping your stay will be as planned. Sure there’s a helpline, but that’s truly a last option. There’s a whole site dedicated to the horror stories Airbnb Hell, where guests and hosts share the worst of the worst. Out of two million listings across the world only a handful turn sour.
Hotels and hostels have lost the modern young traveller to a better alternative, a homely experience.
I spoke with my last Airbnb host in London, a delightful apartment in Zone 1 for an unbelievable price. Our correspondence was brief, but as a young visitor I made sure to sell our responsible attributes and glaze over any character flaws. Upon arrival the place was a dream, immaculate and Mark was lovely. The train rattled past every five minutes but hey, this was London. Mark added his last guests had been less than hospitable.
“I was so relieved to have you here. Our last guests came all the way to London just to drink and smoke in the apartment. I was appalled. You’re in London for god’s sake, f*** go out and enjoy it,” he says.
We travel for experience, the tastes, the sounds even a few tacky souvenirs to weigh us down. Staying in someone’s home is not just cash friendly, it provides an intimate experience to living in the city. The ultimate faux pas for a modern traveller is falling into the tourist trap, no bum bags, no visors and certainly no Kathmandu hiking gear. The host tips you off to local haunts, steers you away from the bad side of town and provides a home to come to at the end of a long day of exploring. Hotels and hostels have lost the modern young traveller to a better alternative, a homely experience.
Loxton has capitalised on this gap noting the change in mindset.
“(There has been a) seismic shift from traditional hotel accommodation to villas. When you think about it there is an illogical nature to the way hotels are designed,” he says.
“Why would you want to be isolated from your friends and family in separate rooms (or separate floors) and meet at designated times in public areas?”
Not even the lure of room service or buffet breakfast has wooed modern travellers, with a common distaste for the expensive hotel.
Airbnb has changed the face of tourist destinations, infiltrating local neighbourhoods and planting their own flag. In San Francisco, New York, Paris and Berlin the response from long term residents has tainted the experience. Not as far as voyeuristic exploits, but noise complaints, ransacking and general disturbance are an accepted fate of living next to an Airbnb listing. A system built on piracy where renters sublet their room on site has seen a number of legal issues arise too. It’s another Bad Neighbours film waiting to happen, and oh god we don’t need that.
TripAdvisor has seen the power of the false review, glowing or not so can shift a not so visited destination to a tourist hotspot. That Uber driver who went the long way home won’t be cashing in anymore and the same goes for Airbnb. Users need to share their opinion for the benefit of others, not booking a new non-reviewed listing is a decent place to start for a cautious traveller. But I’m still a little more concerned with the general lack of hygiene at hostels so won’t be logging off Airbnb just yet.