The summer holiday season is in full swing and many of us are eagerly planning (or have already planned) our escape from the Doha heat. For those of you looking for accommodations somewhere or wanting a non-hotel, unique experience, you should check out Airbnb, a social-focused website that allows people with spare space to rent it to travelers. This spare space could be an entire house or a couch in the living room. Airbnb has listings in 185 countries, covering more than 15,000 cities.
Admittedly, at first the concept of Airbnb sort of creeped me out. Why would I want to stay with complete strangers or why would I want strangers to stay in my house? Well, it appears as though a lot the spaces offered are private and through peer reviews, you can find out more about spaces and potential guests. Obviously, as more people use the site, the more reviews there will be and the more comfortable you could be with either hosting or with booking a space. So maybe it isn’t such a sketchy concept. And there is one celebrity who definitely doesn’t think it is. Ashton Kutcher recently invested “significantly” in Airbnb and is now a strategic advisor for the company.
For travelers, the main benefits of using Airbnb seem to be cost and experience. In all the listings I perused, prices were significantly less than what you would pay at hotel – even a cheap hotel. With most listings having clear photos, you generally know what to expect. You also have a great variety of places to stay, from a basic bedroom to things as cool as an igloo in Greenland or a converted windmill. In terms of experience, a lot of the comments highlight the better local experience they had because of staying with someone from the city. Many talk about becoming friends, having better insight on cultural and dining options and general just feeling more connected to the local culture. This could be great if you are traveling alone or feel that too often your travel is just lame touristy stuff.
For hosts, the main benefit it clearly money, but of course some hosts talked about the new friends they have made and the interesting people they have met. Listing is free, and most of the fees charged for booking the space goes directly to the property owner, with Airbnb only taking 3% of the total charge. Hosts can also message with guests before approving their stay, adding a layer of screening in addition to any peer reviews. Take a look at the Airbnb “how it works” video to see how it works for both guests and hosts.
I was actually impressed with the quality of listings and the variety of options on Airbnb. It has great photos of the places (they actually send a photographer when a host registers) and their mobile app is quite slick. I’m not 100% sold on using the site (maybe I am a bit of a travel snob now), but would certainly consider it if I am struggling to find a decent hotel or if I am feeling adventurous. It is certainly light years ahead of couch surfing and unquestionably more unique than a Holiday Inn. Also, as an expat in Qatar that doesn’t feel overly connected to my flat, I honestly might even consider renting out my flat when I travel. There are already multiple people using it in Qatar and certainly the city is attracting more and more visitors, so there is money to be made. Overall, Airbnb is definitely worth exploring as you start to plan your next trip or if you have always dreamed of running a bed and breakfast!