Story by Adrian Brijbassi
NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE — About four years ago I had an awful experience with one of those alternative-stay companies — the online brokers that rent out homes and apartments to travellers. I have been critical of such brokers since, but a good friend of mine recently became an executive at Airbnb Canada and he convinced me to give his operation a try. I agreed, so when I took a trip to Nashville, I chose a location on Airbnb. The property wasn’t my first choice and the booking process wasn’t as simple as it should have been (because I had a coupon from Airbnb and that seemed to frustrate the company’s website), but the stay exceeded my expectations. So much so that I not only plan on booking again with Airbnb but possibly joining up as a homeowner to rent out one of my properties on it myself.
Travellers seeking to rent a property must submit identity documents that allow for background checks and peace of mind to the owner willing to let a stranger from far away into their home. Unlike a hotel room, a person renting out a space can turn down a potential renter if the traveller’s profile or reviews from other property owners gives a reason to turn down a request.
When you opt to rent a space, you don’t know for certain you’re going to get. Although each property has photographs and a description of the facilities, the majority of Airbnb properties are not like hotels, where there is consistency and often a reputation that has been forged in the marketplace. Knowing what you will receive — even if the expectation is low — is incredibly important to travellers. A vacation remains one of the riskiest purchases you will ever make simply because you can’t return it. You can’t get back the time you booked off of work to take the trip, you can’t get back the airfare cost, you can’t get back the night you spent in a less-than-ideal room or the opportunity to have spent that night in another lodging that would be more pleasing.
That feeling of unknown is a key to the hotel industry’s continued success in the property rental market, but the likes of Airbnb are cutting into that $100 billion business. Alternative-stay companies such as Airbnb, Homestay.com and HomeAway account for one-fifth of that market share, according to a Skift.com report, but the growth is expected to rapidly continue. Airbnb has more than 1 million listings and was recently valued at $25 billion. The alternative-stay companies are de-risking their product and taking advantage of the online world’s ability to educate and inform travellers. Their growth has worried hotel operators around the world and some have even petitioned governments to restrict the ability of Airbnb to provide broad rental options.
Home Stays Continue to Evolve
In Nashville, I stayed at the Music City Lofts, a converted heritage building filled with attractive and spacious condos. My one-bedroom loft had a big, full kitchen, a living room with contemporary decor and a lovely exposed brick wall adorned with memorabilia from famous musicians. The owner of the loft is in the music industry and she displays the autographed records for the guests renting the space. She also hires a property manager to look after the loft. The manager contracts housekeepers, greets guests and provides them with necessary information for their stay. This aspect of the Airbnb stay is what I found most valuable.
Unlike at many three-star and some four-star hotels, where I would have to compete with other guests for the attention of the front-desk staff or a concierge, I was able to get great, personalized advice from the Music City Lofts property manager. She helped map out my stay, suggesting what attractions were best to see, what I could skip and how much time I would need. She warned me of areas to avoid and helped set me up with discounted tickets to the NHL Predators‘ game that weekend. She was not watching a clock or feeling pressure to move on from our conversation because another guest was waiting.
It was the best of what Airbnb and alternative-stay companies aim to achieve — comfortable accommodations with personal service only elite hotels can surpass. The loft wasn’t cheap. It cost close to $300 per night, but that was comparable to hotel rooms at less desirable properties.
The drawbacks are the lack of amenities. Bring your own shampoo, conditioner and shower gel. There’s no mini-bar or room service. If you want a late-night snack, you’ll have to find a grocery store or convenience shop to buy it. Should you misplace your keys, there may not be anyone readily available to get you back into your room. While some Airbnb properties might have a gym or pool, don’t count on it.
But if you’re aware of what you will and won’t get, then your expectations can be calibrated before you arrive. Airbnb is making it a point to ensure it meets your expectations and that is its next step in its growing emergence in the vacation rental industry.