Saturday, August 20, 2016

Airbnb - Great when it works

Here’s the thing; when one looks for commercial accommodation listings, there are a few universal truths that we all know:

1)      The cheapest hotels buy the most expensive photographers
2)      Small rooms are photographed with fish-eye lenses
3)      They don’t exaggerate about “the bones”

If a room is small, its dimensions are given in terribly small writing, and euphemisms like “cozy, snug and homey” are used with abandon. The furnishings, sometimes brought in for the occasion, are pretty and very well matched, and exaggerated to maximum that the owner's imagination can conjour.

When one arrives, the room's decoration may be very different, and indeed rather frayed and the finery somehow downgraded, but the room's size is still "cozy, snug or homey". 

Seduced by the pictures of the accommodations outside, and ignoring the minor detail that one does not actually sleep outside nor enjoy the outside perspective while asleep we are lulled into a false reverie.

On Airbnb, this is different. People with no linkage to the commercial world are let loose to describe their own properties, properties that they apparently love unconditionally.

And so this week, I have stayed in two properties in La RĂ©union; one perfect, the other imperfect. One warm, friendly and comfortable, the second with the ambiance of an empty hill-top youth hostel in the dead of winter. It was cold, damp and mouldy.

Option "A" and Option "B"

But try and talk to Airbnb about it! Ha …. They have no way to penetrate their technological defences.

Fair enough, but having checked out after one night of a three-night stay, I would have like to be soothed by someone who facilitated the arrangement.

Instead, I have again learned about Buyer Beware; and this is the heart of the matter.

We believe what is written; reviews are great, but with only four or so they are hardly representative; and written in languages that one might not speak and translated by that paragon of twisted speech, Google Translate, they are really difficult to trust.

So buy with an open mind; realise that if you wander into a swamp you have paid for it, and there is nobody to cry to. Equally, should you wander into a palace, and I have stayed in some fabulous Airbnb properties, it was by chance.

The sharing economy is a great idea; it does, however, rely on reviews, and lots of them. You can’t only have the gushers and whiners responding; you need every participant to understand that the key to the success of this amazing opportunity is participation.

But don't get me wring; I love Airbnb, and will use them again and again. They do, however, need a little customer service. By all means, head for Airbnb, Uber, Couch Surfing and any one of these brilliant concepts, but remember; the success of the sharing economy hinges on you writing a review.

And guess what? Just saying that is was “OK” or “Average” is very important. Not everything is brilliant or awful; most of us are average – which is what average means. And knowing this before taking a leap into the unknown is very reassuring.

The good one.