AirBnB is the world’s largest community driven hospitality company. Its mission, according to the company, is to make people belong anywhere they go all around the world. Whether it’s an apartment for a night, a castle for a week or a villa for a month, AirBnB has something for you at any price point in over 190 countries…
But enough of this marketing speech. Regulators around the world continue fighting with AirBnB hosts, horror stories from the past are not yet forgotten and even the company’s home city San Francisco took 6 years to legalise it earlier this week.
Despite these few issues, I learnt 6 things about AirBnB that made me fall in love with it. AirBnB is the primary example of Sharing Economy illustrating how technology can change our lives for the better. Don’t believe me? See for yourself.
1. Efficient communication
Communication is the key in a community-driven environment which connects over 20 million people speaking in almost 200 languages. When visiting a foreign country, poor communication can mean wasted time and extra stress.
That’s why I love the fact that it is surprisingly easy to communicate on AirBnB.
When I was looking for a place to stay in Malaga (Spain) I sent two messages in English to my potential hosts. Both replied within 30 minutes. In Spanish.
No matter how much I wanted to, I couldn’t understand what they said. And here’s why AirBnB surprised me.
They integrated Google Translator tool into the inbox window, allowing me to instantly translate messages from Spanish to English. Of course, I used the tool to translate the message and replied in Spanish. Even though my potential hosts could guess I was using Google translator, it demonstrated my efforts to communicate in their language. Isn’t that awesome?
What makes it even better is verifying your personal phone number and email.
You receive all the AirBnB inbox messages as text messages to your phone. For free.
When my host in Portugal recommended me a coffee shop nearby, I didn’t have to open the AirBnB website or even the AirBnB app to read it – it was instantly sent to me as a text message.
Imagine how helpful that is when you’re traveling abroad and don’t have any WiFi connection. Likewise, verified email means you receive travel itinerary with all the required contact details, maps and private instructions right after your booking is confirmed.
Finally, a sleek and well-designed iOS or Android app makes your communication really smooth. You can do pretty much everything you need on it – instantly check the host’s profile, reviews, scroll through listed pictures, pull out a map and even save messages and send them to multiple hosts at the same time.
Easy communication means better user experience. Hats off for that, AirBnB.
2. Security and trust
People often feel that renting your own property to complete strangers is unsafe. While most of us already got used to buying stuff on eBay, shipping clothes from Asos or the like, property listings are different.
Renting property may involve much higher risks.
Your house is not just a pair of shoes that you can throw away anytime and not a sweater you can return to sender.
Here’s how AirBnB is solving the security issue
Once you sign up as a user, you are asked to verify your e-mail and phone number, as well as connect your account to one of the social networks, displaying how many social connections you have. Also, randomly selected community members are asked to send copies of their IDs.
As a host, you have a total control of who stays in your property, as you can pre-approve your guests before accepting a booking.
On a more negative note, with millions of bookings every month things are statistically bound to go wrong. AirBnB is no exception. There were horror stories reported about listings being completely trashed or even hosts finding out about their guests’ orgies.
However, that was reported in the earlier days and seems that AirBnB knows how to learn from their mistakes.
After one of such incidents, AirBnB has set up an In-House Enforcer team with 50 investigative agents led by a former U.S. Army Intelligence officer. The company actively seeks to resolve disputes between the hosts and their guests in a fair way, as well as cooperate with local police forces when needed.
Hosts are the core of AirBnB’s success. Not surprisingly, AirBnB fully insures hosts for any damages to their properties.
How does AirBnB ensure trust in its community?
Trust makes hosts feel comfortable allowing travelers to stay in their home, and helps travelers feel like they belong anywhere.
As one of the three AirBnB co-founders Nathan explained during a meetup in Sydney, one of the best ways to build trust is a well-developed mutual review system.
Guests review hosts about their experience, whereas hosts have a chance to comment publicly about their guests.
Cancelling a booking automates an instant “Booking was cancelled with X days left” review, and getting a certain number of these may result in your AirBnB account being blocked (see #4 about what happened to my Spanish booking).
AirBnB community consists of people.
Conscious and responsible users act as safeguards, as they can flag suspicious members or listings. A special Trust and Safety team reviews all the flagged posts on a regular basis and the Customer service works 24 hours a day.
The review system is not perfect, but is constantly being improved.
The goal is to make AirBnB reviews more honest and trustworthy. A good example is this recent improvement.
The problem was that when users criticized their hosts or guests, they sometimes received bad reviews in return. This was an obvious incentive to write only good reviews and had a negative impact on the overall level of honesty.
After recent changes, users can see reviews they receive only after both participants have completed their assessment of the AirBnB experience. This gives confidence to both sides to write honest comments without jeopardizing their own reputation.
Despite a few incidents in the past, AirBnB demonstrates a great example of customer care and community-driven approach to build trust and to ensure the best experience possible for its members.
3. Unique experience
You probably heard about some epic places where to spend your holidays all around the world. I’m talking about something like this ice hotel in Quebec (Canada) or underwater hotels. Despite that, AirBnB has some seriously unique stays to offer.
Check out these tree houses starting from $39 a night..
medieval European castles starting with $140 a night for a group..
and even lighthouses.
If that is not enough, try to imagine yourself with a group of friends staying in these airplanes
or private North American islands.
For couple holidays, see community-curated lists of the most romantic places.
Back in April during my reunion with high school friends, we rented this villa in Moroccan surfers’ paradise Taghazout. It was accurately described as “8 meters from the Atlantic Ocean” and had the best views from a rooftop lounge with a jacuzzi.
Here’s a snap to give you an idea of what the view was like:
My point is that every AirBnB experience is very personal and unique, which is why home-sharing is different from hotels.
Our host in Morocco Brendan drove us to the nearest town to get a birthday cake for our friend, shared his inspiring life story and gave us insider tips about the local culture and people.
We got his villa as a bargain compared to anything we would have paid for a hotel.
4. AirBnB cares about you
One of the crucial things for a peer-to-peer (P2P) technology startups like AirBnB is viral growth. The supply and demand are so strongly linked together that without supply there would be no demand.
No one would have heard about AirBnB if they had not expanded from San Francisco where it all started to New York, the whole USA and other continents.
The best way to reach viral growth is having a great user experience (UX). AirBnB wants people to fall in love with their company and mission. They need this love as much as fish need water or people need air.
“It’s better to have 100 users love you than 1,000,000 users like you”, admitted AirBnB CEO Brian Chesky.
Indeed, good UX means some people will recommend the brand to their friends and family.
Amazing UX means the company may reach viral growth.
“Create the perfect experience however you need to do it, and then scale that experience”, explained Brian.
This advice applies to any business, probably. This is what the famous YCombinator founder Paul Graham phrased as “Do things that don’t scale”.
For AirBnB it was flying over from San Francisco to New York every weekend to help local hosts take better pictures of their properties, teach how to use AirBnB and knock on the doors to find new users.
And looks like these guys know how to scale amazing UX. Here’s what happened to me.
Once I got my AirBnB booking cancelled.
I rented an AirBnB apartment in Malaga (Spain) early in 2014. The guy who initially accepted my booking and received my money cancelled it with 3 days left before my trip. I was in the middle of my exam period and suddenly had to worry about finding another place to stay for me and my girlfriend.
AirBnB’s response was just brilliant.
They offered me an extra 30 Euro (on a 50 Euro booking, it was 60% extra) to find a place on a short notice. I could suddenly expand my search to include places I wouldn’t have afforded before.
This saved my trip and won me over as an ambassador for AirBnB.
5. Other benefits
AirBnB’s potential impact on the world may be much bigger than just disrupting the hotels industry.
AirBnB partnered with cities and organisations to help in hosting world-wide events like Olympics, World Cup or major conventions. Such events often require major investments into infrastructure that may not be necessary after the events are over.
Therefore, Sharing Economy can ensure more residents benefit from the events while governments can cut their spending on infrastructure.
For example, it is reported that during the Brazil’s Word Cup in 2014, local residents earned almost $40 mln through AirBnB.
Even the football legend Ronaldinho listed his property.
AirBnB also reports that their guests stay two days longer on average than typical tourists and spend 50% of their money in the local neighbourhoods where they stay, providing social and neighbourhood benefits to the local areas.
Not only do the locals benefit economically from using AirBnB.
So does the environment.
In July 2014, AirBnB has announced the results of a thorough study about its environmental impacts. The results were shocking.
Compared to traditional accommodations, an average Airbnb guest uses at least 60% less energy, at least 12% less water, and generates roughly a third of the waste.
The greenhouse gas emission levels of AirBnB travelers compared to the most sustainable hotels were 89% lower. This is the equivalent of avoiding greenhouse gas emissions of 200,000 cars, taken off the roads in Europe.
Every little helps says Tesco’s slogan. If by exchanging expensive hotels into local community homeshare you can save money, bring economic benefits to the community and even help the environment, then why not?
That, ladies and gentlemen, brings me to my last point.
6. Referral program
Another crucial point of ensuring viral growth is having a smart referral system in place.
AirBnB’s referral program is said to have improved signup rates by 300% a day (explanation for geeks about how to build an efficient referral system).
Here’s why I love it.
You can give your friends $25 to travel just by sending them your personalised sign up link.
Friends can redeem it on their first trip and if they do, you get $25 yourself. Moreover, if your friends hosts someone, you can get an extra $75 credit towards your trips.
Yesterday my friend Linas travelled to Riga and used AirBnB. He’s my fifth friend who got $25 off his booking. It’s awesome because this referral system creates a win-win situation. Your referees are happy to get an extra credit and you get rewarded if they use it.
Note that this works only for users who haven’t signed up before.
Want to try AirBnB and get your $25 towards your first trip?
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What’s your favourite story about AirBnB?