I stayed at an Airbnb apartment for the first time this past week during a 3 night business trip to San Francisco. Airbnb has been around for 5 years, but I’ve heard very few direct accounts from friends or acquaintances who had used the service. I’ve certainly read much about Airbnb as a heroic startup story: its unique founding narrative that involved selling Obama O’s and Cap’N McCain’s cereal to get out of debt, its meteoric growth into a global hospitality marketplace (500,000 listings in 33,000 cities and 192 countries), its ongoing regulatory battles in major cities like NYC and SF and its funding & support by the best VCs in the business, which has led to its current $2.5B valuation. However, without a direct endorsement or referral from a friend, I was hesitant to stay in someone else’s home during routine, non-“vacation home” (VRBO/HomeAway) travel. My perspective changed when I read about Nicholas Carlson’s recent Airbnb experience. I decided that the more than 50% savings vs a hotel stay would be well worth the “risk” of trying out a novel travel experience.
I’ll cut right to the chase: the Airbnb guest experience is absolutely wonderful. I stayed in a luxury apartment complex located a 10 minute walk from my office in a 1 bedroom apartment with on-site laundry, large fitness center and pool, doorman, etc. The apartment was spotless & clean when I showed up. My host was immensely friendly and helpful in advance of and during my stay. To break it down a bit more, here are a few categories in which Airbnb excels vs a traditional hotel experience:
Price: My Airbnb was $200 + a 12% fee each night, or $224 per night. The prime hotels I normally stay for ~$200 were priced at $450+ by the time I tried to book my accommodations a week or so in advance. It is hard to pick a favorite hotel and depend on it for every trip, as the price can sometimes be 2-3x “normal” prices even during seemingly routine weeks. I expect that Airbnb’s breadth of inventory in major cities will allow me to stick to a more consistent price:quality ratio over time, particularly for hosts who have robust feedback from guests.
Style: Hotel rooms are hotel rooms. Single, double, queen, king. Normal, deluxe, suite. The in-room experience doesn’t typically vary all that much unless you’re in one of the finest hotels in the world. With an Airbnb, you can choose pretty much any style of accommodation you want: house, condo, apartment, etc with numerous layout options.
Booking & property interaction: The Airbnb booking experience is sophisticated, yet easy to use. Pre-reservation, there is a great search interface that works across desktop and mobile platforms seamlessly. Communication with the host is facilitated by a great cross-platform messaging system that allows for Q&A that can involve special instructions, concierge-style recommendations, or anything that both parties want to discuss. Payments is handled in a far more elegant way than 3rd party hotel booking services and is at least on par with direct hotel booking. Regular e-mail and push notifications keep the guest informed and updated on the upcoming stay. The interactions are far more human and welcoming than the automated hotel industry e-mails.
Location: Airbnb accommodations are *everywhere* in major cities like San Francisco. There were multiple options in every interesting neighborhood that I researched on Airbnb. Guests are no longer limited to the major commercial or tourist hubs that hotels are typically clustered into. Pick your neighborhood and become a part of it for a short period of time.
Amenities: Non-resort hotel amenities are typically limited to restaurants, bars, small fitness centers, spas, common areas, concierge (most often with a handful of “go to” recommendations) and a few other categories of decent benefits. With an Airbnb, the on-site amenities can be endless, as you’re living in a home: full kitchen, full cable TV, functional high speed internet, comfortable furniture, etc. While hotels have an incentive to keep you onsite and earn ancillary revenue, an Airbnb encourages you to make your surroundings an amenity.
Airbnb is an exceptional product and service for a guest. The guest can save money, access a broader range of possible accommodations and enjoy deeper interaction and connection with the surrounding community. And the already stellar Airbnb experience is likely to improve as supply/choice increases, feedback becomes more robust on hosts and guests and Airbnb expands into broader services. For example, an Airbnb “perks” program for frequent travelers that provided discounts at gyms, restaurants, theaters, museums and the like can’t be far off. If you haven’t given Airbnb a try, I highly recommend that you do so on an upcoming trip; there is a lot to love about the experience!