Before we had actually ever stayed in an Airbnb, we had sold half our stuff on Craigslist, moved the rest into storage, and booked an entire summer of stays with eight different hosts scattered across two countries and seven cities. Our approach to learning about Airbnb was a sort of baptism by fire. But most folks aren’t looking for a 5,500 mile road trip introduction to Airbnb. So to answer the question “What is Airbnb?”, here’s a short and sweet definition of what Airbnb actually is based on our experiences.
Airbnb is a network that connects property owners who have spaces to rent with travelers who are looking for a place to stay.
The three pieces of the airbnb equation
The hosts come first. They own some property, whether it’s a faraway vacation home, a suite over their garage, or an extra bedroom in their house. Instead of renting out their space to a full-time tenant with an annual lease, they host travelers for shorter stays that can range from a single night to several months. Hosts create their advertised listing on the Airbnb website with photos and a description of their space as well as a daily price. When folks book the space, owners host their guests, ideally like they would a friend or family member. Each host and their space have a style all their own, and after their stay, guests have the opportunity to leave a review. This feedback helps hosts improve and provides future guests an idea of what to expect.
The second variable is the guests, who pay hosts to stay at their place. Instead of booking a hotel, resort, or hostel when they’re traveling, guests search through listings on Airbnb and book their lodgings with a host. Guests might be on vacation, traveling for work, or in town visiting family. Just like hosts, guests make an account on the Airbnb website, and when they find a place that looks like the right fit for them, they make their reservation through Airbnb’s website or app. After the stay, hosts have the opportunity to review guests as well. These reviews become part of the guest’s profile, which future hosts can see when considering a booking request from a guest.
Then there’s Airbnb itself, which functions as the host-guest matchmaker. Like realtors or travel agents, the company’s goal is to connect each guest with the right host and space. Airbnb then receives a commission for each successful booking. The company’s website and app provide the digital platform where hosts and guests create their profiles, make their bookings, and leave their reviews. As guests search through all the homes posted by hosts, Airbnb helps narrow down the listings by the guest’s criteria such as the dates, geographic location, pet or family-friendly, and so on. Airbnb also provides the support for any conflicts between hosts and guests with their resolution center and offers liability coverage for hosts as well.
Why Book an Airbnb
Our immediate reaction when we opened Airbnb’s website for the first time was one of disbelief. Are these prices real? We, like so many folks, had just made peace with the fact that a decent hotel off the side of the interstate was going to run at least $100 a night and a special vacation room is going to start at $250 and climb. But here were beautiful apartments on the mediterranean for $55 a night! Tack on a weekly or monthly discount, and the prices became even more reasonable. For guests, this type of affordability brings wish list travel into the realm of possibility. On the other side of the equation, hosts are setting daily prices that are considerably higher than they would be for an annual tenant, and yet they don’t have the looming overhead of a hotel. Talk about a win-win situation.
A great suite at a Hampton Inn looks a lot like a great suite at any other large hotel chain: white duvet, small paper-wrapped soaps, and an air conditioning unit located under the window that is actually controlled by a thermostat on some adjacent wall. The predictability of a smiling front desk check-in and a decent continental breakfast can be comforting, but its repetitiveness also gives you the sense that the vacation you’re really after is happening just beyond the hotel’s revolving door. This is where Airbnb shines. For much less than the nightly rate of a standard hotel, we’ve stayed in 1920s bungalows, light-filled carriage houses, and a 19th century windmill in the Kentish countryside complete with a maze of public footpaths. Each space is so undeniably its own that where you’re staying becomes an integral part of the travel experience itself, kinda like a fancy resort minus the price tag.
Airbnb is built on the underlying belief that people are good. Most people in the network will treat each other with kindness and respect, and their shared interactions will enrich the lives of everyone involved. That may sound lofty, but literally as we started drafting this post, we had a knock on our apartment door, behind which stood our host’s granddaughter carrying two flutes of homemade chocolate mousse and brownie parfait, topped with whipped cream and raspberries. She handed off the desserts, said, “These are from everyone downstairs. Happy Thanksgiving!”, and scampered away, leaving us with a ridiculously decadent end to our holiday. During our travels, we’ve connected with countless individuals through small gestures like these. And the intimate views into the daily lives of folks who would otherwise be perfect and lasting strangers engenders a bit more of what this world so desperately needs: empathy.