Digital platforms are changing the way people seek accommodation when they travel.
However, horrifying stories being shared online, it is recommended that guests take caution before settling for hosts.
Until 2007, hotels were the most popular stay options for travellers and holiday goers. However, with the establishment of Airbnb, an American company that operates an online marketplace and hospitality service for people to lease or rent short term lodges, there are more options available for “guests” as the site refers them.
Interestingly, the company, which is present in more than 65,000 cities and 191 countries, does not own any real estate or property. Yet, more than 60 million people have used the app and globally, it has had more than 260 million check-ins.
Data from the vacation rental site show that last year, more than 5,900 Kenyans had listed their homes. To hosts, this means an avenue for extra income but to guests, it is a presentation of hundreds of stay options to choose from.
Shay and Nouri are a Kenyan and Dutch couple, who love travelling. The pair runs a travel blog; Dnomadz, where they tell stories of places they’ve visited.
When making their travelling budget, accommodation tops the list. However, before settling, they compare different accommodation platforms to find what they like and fits the budget.
“Airbnb is used a lot in Europe, where I used to live, and that is how I got in the know. Within the past one year, we have used the site more than seven times. During one of our first experiences in Kenya, we had a “very sweet” deal. We stayed for a long weekend in a villa near Diani Beach, with a private beach for only Sh3,000 per night.
‘‘The bedroom had a beautiful view over the garden full of flowers, palm trees and the Indian Ocean. We never met the host, but there were two caretakers who made sure our stay was pleasant. They even cooked for us. However, we had to bring our own groceries. When budgeting, we usually try to not spend more than Sh4,000 per night for a double room,” explains Nouri.
Shay chimes in, noting that this does not mean that Airbnb is the most affordable choice of accommodation. To them, it is the option to prepare their own meals that makes it most attractive. “Also, some of the hosts are very helpful in that they help with organising trips or activities around. Most of the hosts are keen on ensuring that guests enjoy their stay.”
According to Caro Rolando, a regular user of the app, staying at Airbnb makes her feel like she is immersed in the local context.
“I find hotels too generic, sterile and out of place in many communities. With Airbnb, I feel more of a local than a tourist,” she says.
However, it is not all plain sailing. A single search on Google gives out an indication that sometimes, things can go wrong. With hundreds of horrifying stories being shared online, it is recommended that guests take caution before settling for hosts.
“In our case, we usually check the ratings and reviews left behind by other guests. It gives us an idea of the host and the place. Should we like accommodation facilities being offered by a new host, we ensure that we engage the host before making any payments and always make sure that both the price and photos look realistic,” offers Nouri.
"The good thing about new hosts is that the prices are relatively cheap compared to those with many reviews. In the case of the beach villa near Diani, we recently found out that the price had been hiked from Sh3,000 we had paid to Sh12,000 per night.
According to Caro, sharing the host’s contact information and address to family and friends who are not travelling with her is a habit that she has mastered too well. In case there is an emergency, they know where I am and how to get there,” she adds.
She stresses the importance of reading all the details provided- including the footnotes and conditions.
“I have made the mistake of booking a private room only to be surprised at arrival that it was a shared room. The information was in the property description but somewhat hidden along the other details. On the flip side, get to know more about your hosts when staying at their Airbnb listings. Most hosts are really interesting people who have great, local tips on the places you wish to visit.”
Shay adds that it is also important to contact your host in advance for proper planning. In some countries like Amsterdam where it is difficult to find residential houses, Airbnb hosts are restricted to only rent out their houses for a maximum of 60 days per year.
“Another tip for travellers is that instead of searching for specific locations like Diani or Watamu, you can type the name of the country and start zooming in at random places.