An industry is said to have been “disrupted” when a newcomer enters it and fundamentally changes how it works.
Uber disrupted the taxi industry by allowing anyone to become a driver, and by improving the customer experience. For better or for worse, AdBlock is disrupting the online publishing industry. And of course, AirBnB has utterly disrupted the hospitality industry.
For the first time ever, we’ve now got a generation of “casual hoteliers”, as people open their homes to strangers for money. But they’ve also revolutionized and enhanced the guest experience, and mainstream hotels are starting to feel the heat. Here’s what AirBnB is doing different, and how it’ll improve your traveling experience.
Collecting City Taxes
In Europe, many municipalities require hotels to collect ‘city taxes’. This is a fee levied against occupants of hotel rooms, regardless of whether they’re there on business, or as tourists.
The amount charged varies from city to city, and often depends on the star rating of the establishment. If you’re staying in a three-star hotel in Barcelona, you can expect to be charged €0.75 per person, per night. Rome charges €4 for the same class of hotel.
These taxes are fairly unpopular with travelers. Personally speaking, I don’t mind them, as they go towards funding infrastructure and cultural events. I do resent how inelegantly they’re collected though. In my experience, they are collected in cash during check-in or check-out, rather than during booking. Nothing’s more frustrating than having to count out six euros in “slummy”, when you just want to get out and catch your flight, or go to bed.
Thankfully, AirBnB is dealing with this problem, at least in some locales. In Paris, Amsterdam, and dozens of cities in the United States, they’ve arranged a deal with the local government to collect city taxes on behalf of their hosts. You can see a comprehensive list here.
Airbnb San Francisco ads suggest local industry should be thankful it pays its hotel tax https://t.co/nZFANLpqbz pic.twitter.com/AHxg6r0Xtz
— The Drum (@TheDrum) October 22, 2015
This is great for these local governments, who receive a massive windfall. It’s great for hosts, who don’t have to physically go to the effort of collecting the daily tax from their guests and remitting it to the municipality. It’s great for tourists too, who have a more streamlined check-in/out experience.
Transparent Security Deposits
Hotels often charge their guests a refundable deposit when they check in. This is often a small amount (around $50 per day), to cover things like breakages and incidentals (room service and purchases from the minibar). That said, there’s no real ‘rule’ on how much hotels should charge. It’s entirely up to them, and can be as be as high or as low as they choose.
I found out this the hard way the other day when checking into a hotel I’d booked through Hotel Tonight. It started off being quite routine. The receptionist took my driver’s license and asked me to sign a document. She then assigned me a room, and gave me a slip of paper that told me what the Wi-Fi password was and when breakfast would be served.
Before she handed over the keycards, she asked me to leave a deposit. I dutifully handed over my credit card, which she swiped and then returned. Later that night, I checked my online banking, and found that she’d taken around $200. That was for one night.
That’s the thing with hotels. You never know in advance how much of a deposit you’ll have to leave. You don’t get told when you make the reservation.
AirBnB is different though. Before you make a booking, you’re told quite plainly how much your room will cost, from the deposit and cleaning fee, to the cost for additional occupants.
Many properties on AirBnB don’t even ask for a deposit, thanks to the amazing insurance they receive for free as hosts.
That said, if you’re determined to check into a hotel, you can always find out how much your deposit will be by opening the page for your hotel on TripAdvisor, and looking for all reviews tagged with ‘deposit’.
When I go to a city, I quite quickly find somewhere that deeply resonates with me. In Liverpool, there’s Lark Lane, with its dozens of trendy cafes and restaurants. In Toronto, it’s the Danforth Avenue. In New York, I go to Williamsburg’s Bedford Avenue, with its countless enticing ethnic eateries. The list goes on.
The problem is, it can be hard to find hotel accommodation (affordable or otherwise) near these areas.
With AirBnB, you can be much more precise with where you stay. Heading to Brooklyn and want to be based near your favorite Korean BBQ place, or going to Melbourne and want to be able to walk to your favorite pub? You can.
That’s because you’re staying in someone’s house, whereas hotels tend to be clustered around city centers and transportation hubs.
Getting Rid of Bad Hosts
I’ve stayed in some crap hotels in my time.
I once stayed in a hotel in Switzerland where the windows didn’t open, and the carpet told a sordid story of all the guests who had stayed there previously. Another hotel (also in Switzerland, funnily enough) came with an amenity I really didn’t want – bedbugs. Then there was the hotel in Marseille which looked like it had last seen housekeeping during the Clinton presidency. I stayed long enough to connect to the Wi-Fi and book something else.
Like bedbugs?Try La Quinta Hotel, Calhoun, GA. pic.twitter.com/ZYfFfT0gH9
— John Kachuba (@JohnKachuba) December 11, 2015
All of those hotels are still open. You can still book into them. Despite each of them having some damning TripAdvisor reviews, they still haven’t been removed from any hotel search engines.
AirBnB is different. They’re determined to defend the quality of their service, and they’re doing that by ensuring that all hosts meet a minimum standard. Visitors are able to give feedback, and hosts who accrue enough negative reviews are booted from the service.
AirBnB is a bit like Uber in the respect that it’s not just the service providers who get reviewed, but also the users.
At the end of the trip, hosts have the opportunity to write a few words about the guest, which is displayed on their profile, and cannot be altered or removed by the guest. Get good feedback, and more people will be likely to rent to you. If you amass a lot of negative feedback, nobody will rent to you. It’s as easy as that.
As a guest, I’ve noticed that there are some advantages to this system. Especially when you consider that more and more people are purchasing apartments in order to rent them out piecemeal on AirBnB.
It’s meant that when I’m sharing a house or an apartment with other AirBnB users, I’m probably going to have a good time, and be surrounded with fellow travelers that are clean and considerate.
I’ve never had to complain about a fellow AirBnB user. In fact, I’ve made some really good friends through the service.
Hotels, on the other hand, have no such system. The only requirement to getting a room is having enough money. If you behave badly in one hotel, there’s nothing to stop you moving elsewhere.
the people in the hotel room next to us have noise makers like okay i get it it’s New Years BUT SHUT UP IT’S BEEN 18 MINUTES
— bethann (@bethannlong12) January 1, 2016
As a result, I’ve had some pretty nightmarish hotel neighbor experiences. Perhaps the worst was when three German backpackers in Bratislava thought 3AM was an appropriate time to blast out David Guetta remixes.
The Advantages of AirBnB
I like AirBnB. I like how you can often find yourself staying in quirky little side-streets. I like how cheap it can be, and how transparent the pricing is. I like the fact that it has procedures to remove bad hosts and guests from the system. As a service, it demonstrates how technology can intermingle with travel, in order to make it all a more convenient and pleasant experience.
At the same time, I know that there are some advantages to hotels that aren’t replicated by AirBnB. With hotels, there’s usually a member of staff available 24/7. You can order room service, and usually you can arrange to check out later if need be.
Do you prefer to stay in hotels, or AirBnBs? Tell me about it in the comments below.