The 7 Ingenious Ways That Airbnb is Redesigning Travel
When I began travelling back in 2010, my options for a good night sleep were pretty limited to the likes of DialAFlight and TripAdvisor. Even prior to this, holidays and trips away with my family were almost always organised through local travel agents or shock – even done directly through the hotel. At the time, we didn’t have what’s now referred to as ‘travel tech’. We had to get off our asses and speak with a real human.
I remember vividly booking a holiday back in 2007 to Marsa Alam, Egypt. I had to physically go into Thomson (the travel agents in my local town) and browse their magnitude of catalogues on what seemed like every hotel in the Middle East. I’d choose the fattest, juiciest catalogues they had, and then head home to devour them. When I found a few that took my fancy, I’d circle them and make a note of the name to give to the operator when I called with my chosen hotels. I spoke to an agent for a good 30 minutes, reciting my preferred hotels and listening to his response of available dates and prices. I would jot down everything on a piece of scrap paper and hang up to work out my options.
Today, those 30 minutes would have earned me a hotel booking, flights, a rental car, a Camel ride over the dunes, a Falafel making class and a tour of the Great Pyramids of Giza.
High street travel agencies and similar, to me, are just circling the drain. Over the years, the travel industry has become nonsensically noisy and infiltrated with online services and companies that offer colossal discounts, deals and seducing treats that it almost seems silly that at one stage you wouldn’t even shop around – that short, balding man at Thomson simply MUST have the best deal, right?
The world of ‘online booking’ when it comes to holidays is some-what new when you actually take a step back and look at it. To put things into perspective, ‘Booking.com’, which is currently the number one leading online booking platform for hotels, began as a little start up in the Netherlands back in 1996 but didn’t gain much traction until almost 10 years later, in 2005. It had been bought by the Priceline group for a whopping $133 million. It’s a similar story for the famous site ‘Tripadvisor’, who not only act as an online booking platform for hotels and tours, but also as the most used review site in the entire world. Founded in 2000, Tripadvisor had an uphill struggle at the beginning due to a lack of funding combined with the decimation of the travel industry immediately after 9/11. Cut to 2016, and Tripadvisor is now worth $4 billion.
But as the travel tech scene is aggressively multiplying with new online platforms seemingly daily, have we forgotten the great comfort to be found in actual one-on-one encounters with people who provide sincere guidance in a mist of countless options?
Put simply, Airbnb is a room/house letting platform that allows ordinary people to book and live in the spaces of other, pretty ordinary people. In just SEVEN years, Airbnb has taken the world by storm and, as of 2016, boasts a valuation of over $20 billion. What started as three friends renting air mattresses in their San Francisco apartment, Airbnb has now been accepted in over 34,000 cities and is growing at a dramatic speed.
It has without a doubt changed the face of holidaying, and I personally don’t visit a country – let alone book anything – without at least checking out what bizarre accommodation is listed on Airbnb.
Apart from the obvious fact that I can book a 16th Century Medieval Castle from my iPhone, why has Airbnb become so admired and globally utilised?
The largest barrier to sleeping at a stranger’s house is, you guessed it, a fundamental matter of trust. If you saw on ‘Craigslist’ or ‘Gumtree’ someone offering a night in their Florida Beach house on the cheap, would you contact them? Nope. That’s because these kind of websites don’t tend to enlist emotions such as trust and confidence – with some, if not many of their online participants knowingly looking to engage in dubious activity. Airbnb very cleverly tapped into this, and uses a review system and simple questions such as ‘Why are you visiting’ to create a sense of security and sincerity amongst users. Airbnb also has a verification process in place for every host and traveller on its platform, as well as continuously motivating people to sign up with their Facebook account for better transparency. And if that goes wrong? They of course have an insurance policy and 24/7 customer care to help you if any situation arises.
2. Customer Service
Neither Thibault nor I had really experienced much of Airbnb’s customer service until the other weekend, when we were inadvertently stuck in the middle of the Portuguese mountains. We’d booked a Yurt in a little village called Colmeal, close to the large city of Coimbra in Northen Portugal. To cut an extremely long, painful story short – the host was no where to be found, and neither was this magical fucking mountain yurt. We drove with what little gasoline we had to Coimbra (which was a good hour’s journey, late at night) to re-join civilisation. Once we’d regained Wi-Fi, we opened up Booking.com and got a late-night room to unwind and regroup (I must say, even the habitual travellers that we are, it was a pretty fucking stressful experience).
The next day, I reached out to Airbnb (who strangely only seem to offer support via twitter) and gave them the long-winded version of our catastrophic night in the village of nightmares (ok, it may sound dramatic, but if your reading this trust us and avoid Colmeal at all costs. It’s seriously one of the freakiest towns we’ve ever encountered – we’re talking Nightmare On Elm Street freaky…)
Anyway, within less than 2 minutes we received a tweet back saying they’ve got a hold of my Airbnb account and someone will be in touch shortly. About 10 minutes later I was speaking with a lovely lady from Dublin called Su, who was awfully empathic of our terrible experience and refunded us on the spot. Thibault and I thanked her, and to be honest we expected nothing more than that. A few minutes later, Su contacted us saying that she would like to offer us a voucher (4 times the value of our Yurt stay) to use with Airbnb in the future to apologise for our less than perfect experience. Alright – kudos to your marketing skills, Su – but thanks!
3. Ease of Use
Airbnbs website is SO freaking user friendly I’m actually smiling when I freaking use it. It’s totally pain free to search and browse through thousands of options, even giving you the choice between viewing your properties as a list or on a map. A lot of booking websites seem to over indulge in information, making the process sometimes feel a bit complicated or even tiring. Both Airbnb’s website and app are super sleek and clean, and we bloody love it.
When you make your decision on where you want to stay, you often have the choice of contacting the owner prior to booking (to ask any questions, find out about the area, book airport pickups etc) or you can just take the plunge and book it immediately. Airbnb takes care of the rest, and ensures that your booking goes through as straightforward as possible for a seamless experience. Cheers to that, Airbnb!
Travel is an incredibly personal experience, something which I feel Airbnb has really chimed into. As I was explaining previously, online booking platforms often lack the ‘personal touch’ or ‘human contact’ that we desire when making decisions about our trip or holiday. Airbnb gives us this back – not only by staying in a real persons house and not a bland, corporate chain hotel, but also by allowing us to physically speak with said person before we even commit to booking it.
We used Airbnb to stay at a lovely Dutch gentlemen’s house named Hans when we visited Amsterdam for New Years Eve a couple of years ago. We weren’t sure that his house would be appropriate for us during the holiday period, and were worried he might feel a bit pissed off at having to host a young couple in his spare bedroom instead of enjoying the evenings festivities. He contacted us to say he’d love having company over the holidays, and even invited us to join in with him and his friends to reign in the New Year!
Where else would you be able to stay in an icy, minimalistic igloo, and when else would you get the opportunity to stay in a renovated 1960’s aircraft?
Airbnb is fucking fantastic in this respect.
I’ve seen Castles, Windmills, Islands (yes, freaking islands) Warehouses, Lighthouses and everything else in between. For travellers like Thibault and I, you’d agree that WEIRD EQUALS A GOOD TIME (well, usually – unless its a fucking Yurt in Colmeal you’re after). I once booked a surprise ‘hobbit house’ for Thibault and it was seriously one of the most hilarious evenings we’d had!
“Be careful when going in search for adventure – it’s ridiculously easy to find.”
Another way in which Airbnb sets itself apart from other online platforms is with the help of the histrionic boom of social media. Airbnb has grasped onto the fact that it’s possible to share not only thoughts and feelings, but tangible things like properties and bedrooms too. They essentially took the next logistical step from the social media trend, and allow users to even create a community amongst themselves that would have previously never existed.
Airbnb rentals are almost always cheaper than booking a hotel or other kind of accommodation, and often for the same space if not more. When travelling in large or more expensive cities, like when Thibault and I went to the rather pricey but fabulous town of Bath in Southern England, you’d be looking at spending at least £80-£100 for a hotel room in the centre. We couldn’t afford this, so I turned to AirBnB to check out what they had to offer. We ended up renting a shed (yeah, a shed…) in a very odd woman’s back garden for £20 right beside the centre of town. Fairy lights, double bed, campfire….we even woke up to a cow looking through our window, but that all added to the fun!
Airbnb’s business model is one of the top reasons they have succeeded, and will continue to succeed far into the future. Their smart, creative branding has lead to the creation of an extensive online and offline community who want to experience the future of travel hands on. They have ultimately allowed us to reconnect with fellow travellers and locals alike, making those sweet serendipitous connections that we often miss when busy being sucked in by technology. They invested a huge amount of money with the strong believe that Airbnb will stand the test of time, which they’re so far undoubtedly doing.
As the worlds third most valuable online start up to date, Airbnb proves that personal touch, great customer service, and a very clever marketing department is all that it takes to take the travel and hospitality industry by storm.