And why we can no longer recommend this to travellers with children!
A couple of times during our career as a travelers-with-kid we have tried out Airbnb. Not because it is any cheaper, but because it allows us to spend time together in a different way than we can do at a hotel: We can cook, sit together by the dining table and play board games, etc. etc. Rarely does a hotel give the same options, unless you book suites! And if you do that, well, then I guess Airbnb is a cheaper alternative after all...?
The CONCEPT of Airbnb is quite brilliant! We do like how it allows us to see and experience our destinations in a different and more intimate way than if you stay at concept- or chain hotels.
The problem with Airbnb's concept, however, is that it relies on private hosts. This means a wide understanding and perception of what a good host must / should provide in terms of service, just as we, the customers, who pay a considerable amount of money for these services, have different views and perceptions. Airbnb go through great lengths to write their way out of any situation, and they do require the hosts to be as honest and detailed as possible in their descriptions. But again: perceptions and definitions are different. And so are the experiences!
We are well aware that there are many travelers who have had really good experiences through Airbnb. But after we have had a few “less fortunate” experiences we can no longer recommend this service. Below are a couple of examples to explain why:
The pictures on Airbnb's website are usually much more flattering than reality. Either the home looks bigger and more spacey than it actually is, or the general condition of the home looks much better than it really is. In other words, pictures do not tell the whole story!
Notice what the host does NOT show or tell on the website. Try if you can find a Google Streetview image of the property if the address is accurately described at all. Is the neighbourhood neat and tidy? What would a hotel in the same neighbourhood cost? The devil is in the detail!
What do you really pay for? Are additional fees added? Cleaning fee? If so, does the host provide good value for your money? NEVER pay directly to the host, but ONLY via Airbnb.
Since we are dealing with private hosts who do not necessarily have any professional experience and/or training in the tourism, one must be prepared that a potential dialogue / discussion with a host can turn out unprofessional!
In many countries and cities Airbnb is not well seen, which means that the hosts often have to run through loops, and bend the rules to fit their needs. Sometimes the precise address of the residence is only given at the last minute, which makes proper and timely travel planning difficult and leaves the customer (YOU) with a “less than optimal" experience. We have had a host who asked us to use the property's rear entrance (and filthy rear staircase), claiming that the main entrance was blocked due to repair. The truth was that the concierge, sitting at the main entrance, was not at all happy about Airbnb.
As a whole, authorities' approach to Airbnb is a problem for an otherwise good concept, because the hosts often try to hide behind cryptic aliases etc. in order not to get caught. Nevertheless you, the paying customer, can end up in very stressfull situations, if the host decides to pull the plug with short notice! And you can't even be sure of who he / she is!
We have had a host who canceled our booking with less than 48 hours notice, According to Airbnb he can actually do this. Well, no other message came to us, other than the the fact that he had canceled. No explanation. The money was immediately reimbursed, but it does not help much if you have booked flights and trains to get to the city, and actually need a place to stay! We did find an alternative, but it was more expensive and inferior to the original one!
The fact that the host has the right to cancel the booking at the last minute is actually the final drop for us. In reality it is impossible to fully rely on Airbnb's hosts and when you travel as a family with kids this is an absolute dealbreaker! At least to us. There was an ITB (Travel Industry Professionals) fair in Berlin at the time of our latest stay, and I can't help but suspect our original host cancelling in order to make more money from his flat than he would get from us (we had booked MONTHS in advance - he may not have known about the fair at the time!) and therefore cancel without further reason. At least, this was the feeling we had, as we sat there in our worn-down apartment building (albeit with concierge) somewhere in East Berlin!