Over the past few months I’ve been doing a lot of reading about this peer to peer housing rental company called Airbnb. I first heard about them via this weekly email digest that I get from EscapetheCity.org (these guys are also awesome, check them out). I thought it was a clever idea but I had no idea how enormously popular it actually was until I dug a little deeper into their website. After looking into more I feel truly left out and I plan to get involved as soon as possible.
What is it?
Airbnb is a peer to peer marketplace for home/apartment rentals. It’s a great idea that at first I considered to be pretty niche. How many people in the world would really go stay at a complete stranger’s house? Apparently, there are a lot of people. Since the company founded in 2008 there have been over 5 million bookings in 30,000 cities in 192 countries. Impressive to say the least.
How does it work?
As the apartment owner or lessee you can put your couch, bedroom, apartment, or entire home up for rent online. As the traveller it is very easy to find places to stay because there are Airbnb accounts all over the world. You can rent anything from a penthouse room in Paris, to hammocks in Hawaii, to igloos in Alaska, to treehouses in Thailand, or even Castles in Greenland. You can also rent fairly normal places too but where’s the fun in that?
Is it affordable?
If you’re simply traveling for business or going on a weekend getaway, it’s very easy to find an affordable apartment or room to rent for a few nights. Unless you’re looking for something super exotic, the prices are far cheaper than staying in a hotel. I think that this is a major selling point for a lot of people. When looking around Boston I found hundreds of properties under $100/night which is far cheaper than staying in a hotel downtown.
What about trust?
The prices are a nobrainer but where most people get concerned when I talk to them about it is with the trust issue. Couldn’t Airbnb be a great place for rapists, thieves, and generally bad people to hang out and stalk their prey? Maybe, but as a 6ft tall 180lb man who doesn’t really own anything of significant value, I’m not overly concerned about theft or safety. Rightfully, most people are concerned about those issues so Airbnb and other similar companies in the sharing economy have developed great ways to instill trust in their systems.
For example, each property listed not only includes the host’s picture and their bio but it also includes reviews and ratings from people who have stayed there in the past. This goes both ways so the property owner can also see the profiles, ratings, and reviews of the renters themselves and can choose to deny them if they don’t like what they see. As a renter, I am much more likely to stay in someone’s apartment who has had 100 positive reviews than someone who has had 10 positive reviews and 5 bad reviews. This is not much different than buying something on ebay or Amazon where online reputation is either a deal maker or a deal breaker.
You can also sync your Airbnb account with your Facebook account so you can see how you’re connected to that person. I was surprised to see how many bookings in Boston were connected to friends of mine. You could easily then contact your friend to ask about the property owner. Additionally, concerning the theft issue, Airbnb offers $1M in insurance in case there is an incidence of theft or vandalism. If you’re not convinced then take a look at their Safety Page or just do your first few rentals with a friend. Travelling alone is lame anyway.
Why am I interested in Airbnb?
I am a yuppie 20-something who has high rent, likes to travel, and has student debt. If I could rent out my room a few nights each month and offset the cost of my rent or reduce my student debt than that’s a win in my book. Conversely, when I’m traveling I live by the mantra “Do it for the Story” or DIFTS so I would have a much better story to tell if I rented a treehouse in Thailand than if I stayed in a resort. Also, I’m just really interested in the whole concept of peer to peer marketplaces so I’m excited to start experimenting with Airbnb. It’s a bandwagon I should have jumped on a long time ago.