I want to take a second to talk about AirBnB. As a frequent traveler, the controversy surrounding AirBnB has always interested me. It’s not a personal issue to me, to be fair, but I have always felt I should be careful about where my travel dollars go.
I am by no means an angel and I do not pretend to be. But, I love supporting hard-working owners of guesthouses and hostels and what not. My trips around the world have in large part been stupendous, and a large reason for that is due to the warm welcome I have received from the gregarious owners of hostels like the Rolling Stone Hostel in Brasov and the Good Morning Hostel in Belgrade.
In the Beginning…
When I first heard of AirBnB, I was intrigued. What’s not to love about cheap accommodation in local homes? But on the other hand, I also wondered if staying in someone’s house could really offer the convenience of a hotel or hostel. I wondered, would the quarters be too close for comfort? Would I miss the social aspect of staying in a hostel? I couldn’t shake the (unfounded) suspicion that AirBnB was full of greedy, affluent renters looking to squeeze as much money out of their expansive properties with little to no regard for the comfort of their guests. I imagined arriving at an AirBnB only to have a host throw a key at me and say something like “Don’t break anything.”
Soon after, I learned of the negative side of AirBnB’s success—how guesthouses and B&Bs all over the world are being put out of business, as they are forced to adhere to so many regulations that AirBnB rentals are not. I also read many stories about wealthy property developers buying up derelict properties in run down areas, flipping them, and profiting off them with no regard for the local community. Any way you look at it, those facts are unfair and truly sad.
It’s Not Just AirBnb, of Course
This whole issue of course mirrors Ubergate, where taxi drivers are losing business at an alarming rate to Uber (and Lyft and Sidecar) drivers all over the world. I can’t blame anyone for choosing a $20 ride to the airport over a $45 fare. In this day, every dollar matters for our shrinking middle class. Similarly, I can’t blame anyone for wanting to make some extra money renting out a room in their house. It’s exactly the kind of thing I would do to afford the trips I like to take.
However, I recently wrote a feature story on Ubergate for a class I took this fall. Not only did I take an Uber ride for the first (and second) time to learn all about it, I also interviewed a taxi driver turned Uber driver, a Harvard law professor who is an expert on labor law, as well as some representatives of the taxi industry. I heard every side of the story. The biggest thing I learned form writing that story about Uber is that, despite the lack of protections, Uber drivers like what they do. Actually, they love it. They love to drive their own cars. They love to make their own schedule. They are willing to trade paid sick leave and health insurance for that freedom. For what it’s worth, they also don’t think that taxi companies care much about them either. They also don’t think that their clients do! One Uber driver said, “there is no trust between a taxi driver and his boss or a taxi driver and his client.” Honestly, I can’t argue with that. How many times have you gotten in a cab and just felt totally unwelcome?
Both of my Uber trips were the complete opposite. My drivers chatted me up. When I asked them why they drove Uber, they both said “because of this!” Driving who they want, when they want, where they want is a good time. I felt very welcome, very safe. This was a far cry from the news about Uber that you always read about from India and what not.
Sidenote: I understand that I am not a woman. Women face a whole host of safety issues when it comes to transportation that I will never truly be able to grasp and I would never be able write about it.
Back to AirBnb.
My recent trip to the Caribbean was very eye-opening. Most places to stay in the region are far out of my price range. Club Med was never on my radar. I initially sought out the usual places I stay – youth hostels, guest houses, budget hotels, etc but there was nothing. Zilch. Go to hostelworld.com and search for a property in Martinique. You will turn up zero results. Try to bid on a hotwire hotel for less than $100 a night. Even for a short trip, any of the places you’ll find on Orbitz or Booking.com would drain my wallet. This trip was 18 days. So, I figured it was time to finally give AirBnB a try. As the fall started to cool in Boston, I typed in that famous URL and began searching.
Not only were there DOZENS of properties on each island well within my budget, I was happy to find that many offered more convenience and space than I would ever find at a similarly priced hotel. I still had reservations, but really had no other choice. So, I booked up four reservations on Martinique and Guadeloupe, and crossed my fingers.
Fast forward to January 6, and I can say that I completely and totally underestimated the charm, convenience, cost-savings, and social experience that AirBnB offers. I have been astounded not once, not twice, but four times on this trip. Here are the highlights:
- Three of our four hosts gave us an onward ride to our next destination (one of which was well over a 30-minute drive). This saved us so much time AND money. That 30-minute drive would have likely been 30-40 Euro.
- All of our hosts provided free food in one form or another. At the very least, we were welcomed with two bottles of juice and water in our fridge. At another, we were greeted with a plate of appetizers and a freshly made cocktail. One host even threw a party for us and his other guests, and offered unlimited drinks and cake, then provided a fridge full of breakfast supplies.
- Two of our four accommodations came with a washing machine at our disposal. If you’re someone who likes to travel for weeks at a time, you know how invaluable this is. Do you know how many times I have paid 15 euro to a youth hostel for someone to wash my dirty underwear?
- One of them included a pool AND a dog to keep us company.
- All four of them included a private bathroom. When you’re on a budget, a private bathroom in a hotel or hostel is hard to come by.
- Three of them included a private balcony with a nice view of something or other.
Most importantly, each and every host made us feel completely and totally welcome and comfortable. Like the Uber drivers who obviously like what they do, AirBnb hosts (at least the four that I encountered in the Caribbean) love to have guests. Their home is not a hotel, but that’s purposeful. They want to be better than hotels. They want to impress you, they even want to get to know you. They want you to have a good time while in their neck of the woods. Put simply, they want to take care of you. If I have learned anything, it’s that AirBnB hosts are definitely worth supporting.
The Bottom Line
AirBnB is a different experience from a hotel, for sure, but that’s a plus. Each of my hosts truly made me feel welcome, but at a hotel, you can usually tell that people are paid to make you feel welcome. That, and the value for your money at AirBnb is fucking amazing.
That said, there still remains the fact that a huge injustice is happening to the traditional B&B owners out there. At this point, I only hope that lawmakers out there understand the importance of sticking up for them. I do not mean regulating AirB&B – though to be totally honest, I have not done enough research to know if that may be necessary in some ways – but deregulating the rest of the group. If and when that finally happens, like with the taxi industry, consumers will truly benefit from the best value for their money, and anyone who is working hard to provide great accommodations will be rewarded fairly.
– Josh A.