Everyone seems to be having a love affair with Airbnb. This sharing economy company is a rapidly growing Big Deal in the travel industry. I seem to be swimming against the tide. Given a choice between a hotel stay and an Airbnb home, I will pick a hotel every time. Why do I prefer a hotel stay versus Airbnb accommodation? In a word, services. In a sentence: I am high maintenance.
Our Airbnb Experiences
When Airbnb came out as this global phenomenon, we thought we would try it out.
The first time we stayed at an Airbnb, the apartment in Amsterdam was listed as child-friendly. It simply was not. You got up to the loft area using a concrete, spiral staircase and no banisters. The bathroom was connected to the master bedroom with a walkway which had gaping holes and minimal banisters. Surely, the design could not have met EU building regulations! Although my children slept on a futon on the ground floor, going up to the bathroom at the top of the staircase was a bit of a death trap for young children.
The second time we stayed at an Airbnb was during Carnival in Rio De Janeiro. There were 11 of us – 2 sets of parents, a nanny and a 6 children. Not only would a hotel cost more but also provide limited space for such a large group. We thought an apartment would allow the children a living room to play together as well as a kitchen to make simple kids’ meals.
The large penthouse apartment we chose had an amazing location one block from the beach in Ipanema. The photos of the listing made it seem nicer than it was. For example, you couldn’t tell there were ants in the kitchen or that there were exposed electrical wires everywhere (even in the bathroom). The photos indicated they were ‘verified’ but clearly that occurred when the furniture was different and the place was sparkling clean and new.
The locations of the two Airbnb’s we have stayed in have been fantastic. You can, however, get good hotels with great locations.
Proponents of Airbnb like to say their stays are more authentic to the place being visited than staying at a large hotel chain. Yet, I can also get a similar personal and local stay with a small boutique hotel like Hotel Touring in Bologna where I stayed recently.
In another part of Brasil we stayed at the Caraca Nature Reserve which provided accommodation in a former monastery. The accommodation was pretty spartan and the rooms had lots of religious paraphernalia. Then again, what did you expect from a monastery!? Our expectations were confirmed by Tripadvisor reviews. We had a fabulous time hiking and exploring the area and found the monastery beautiful in its faded glory.
I enjoy the additional amenities that come with a hotel. We did cobble together the amenities we wanted for Rio but it took a lot more effort.
There’s nothing like a good hotel breakfast buffet to start the day when you are travelling. When we stayed at the Airbnb in Rio, we went every morning to the Ceasar Park Hotel for a fabulous breakfast buffet.
I also enjoy using the spa services of a hotel and my children like to splash about in the pool at the end of a day of sightseeing. In Rio, I found a beachside masseuse who gave me a fabulous massage. The children just played and swam in the ocean. Was it fine? Sure. Was it convenient? No.
We also use the concierge at hotels to book our restaurants and give their suggestions. Once again, in Rio we used the Ceasar Park concierge. I guess we were there so much that they must’ve thought we stayed there. When my daughter looked sickly at one dinner, the helpful restaurant manager asked if we wanted him to call a doctor. It helped that my friends had stayed there before when they had visited Rio and knew the hotel well.
We also used Marco Bransford, our private tour guide, to book restaurants and taxis on our behalf. Having worked as a head concierge in a top Rio hotel before he became a tour guide, he knew exactly what to do.
I like having my room cleaned everyday at a hotel, especially the bathroom when we share with children. We hired a cleaner to come twice during our Airbnb stay but it was not same clean that you get at a hotel. For example, there was sand everywhere from the kids’ trips to the beach.
I really did not like my whole bathroom experience at the Airbnb in Rio. We found out that you can’t flush toilet paper in Brasilian homes and offices because the sewer system is antiquated. The pipes in the sewers aren’t large enough to accommodate toilet paper. So people put used toilet paper in the trash bin. Ugh. The smell.
I didn’t know this about unique Brasilian problem because I stayed at the fabulous Hotel das Cataratas in Iguassu Falls last time I was in the country. The hotels must use macerators to deal with paper waste because I definitely was not told I couldn’t flush paper down the toilet at the Hotel das Cataratas.
I am too old to live in an apartment that is barely furnished with a futon for a bed. I despise scratchy towels, cheap sheets and lumpy pillows. I like small details like reading lights by the side of the bed and furniture that doesn’t scream IKEA. I am happy to pay extra for a more comfortable accommodation experience.
Restaurants and Bars
Sometimes when the children are tired from sightseeing, we like having the option of just going down to the hotel restaurant for dinner. One day after a long hot day touring with Marco, we went to the Ceasar Park (surprise!) for dinner. Likewise, if we want to sit in the lounge and order drinks from the bar either before or after dinner, we don’t have to take our children out of the hotel. We can enjoy a quiet drink and conversation in a smoke-free environment.
The Lack of Quality Control of Airbnb
I don’t actually have anything against staying in private accommodation. I thought our One Fine Stay experience in New York City was great. On the other hand, with companies like One Fine Stay, there is a vetting process of the homes and you know what you are getting.
Prior to owning our summer home in Martha’s Vineyard, we use to rent homes on the island. We used a reputable rental agency and, once again, had a great experience because we knew exactly what we were getting. Of course, rental agencies have a vested interest in providing attractive photos. On the other hand, as impartial third parties, any reputable rental agency will provide you with accurate information.
The lack of quality control at Airbnb’s really bothers me. You are relying on the owner to provide accurate information. The only thing you can really check is the Airbnb’s location. Hence, both times the rental locations were the best part of our experience.
We have had friends with similar experiences. One friend who was visiting London with her family left her Airbnb because it was so dodgy. She moved into the spare bedroom of one of her friends. In an ideal world, she would have not imposed on anyone else which is why she picked an Airbnb in the first place.
What happens if you don’t have friends in the city with a spare bedroom? Another friend took her family to a hotel in New York City because the Airbnb was not as advertised. Of course, finding a last minute hotel room for a family of 5 proved expensive.
Positives About AirBnB
If we had this checklist of things to look for in an AirBnb, then I expect we would have made better choices. Since I’ve gotten better at checking out AirBnB accommodation, we have rented a couple of AirBnb’s for large family gatherings as well as lodging in places without hotels. AirBnb may not be our preferred choice of lodging but it has come in useful on occasion.
I expect we are part of the small minority that does not think Airbnb is the best thing since sliced bread. Airbnb has spawned a lot of similar sites as competitors. Not to mention, the sharing economy has spurred the growth of home exchange as a viable option for bargain-seeking travellers.
On the other hand, I think Airbnb is good for the industry. It has shaken things up and stopped hotels from becoming complacent. An Airbnb may not be the accommodation option of choice for us much of the time, but it will help improve what we can expect from hotels!
What are your preferences in terms of a hotel stay versus Airbnb?
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