Airbnb: find out if it works

With over 60 million users, Airbnb is an innovative and affordable new approach to booking accommodation, but does it live up to the buzz? Find out in our hands-on review.

Founded in 2008 by three roommates who were struggling to pay rent, Airbnb is now worth an estimated USD$25 billion. It allows people to rent out their homes, rooms, or beds to travellers at an affordable price. Sounds good in theory, but how does it work in reality? Our tech guru Ryan recently tested out the app whilst travelling in Japan – how did he go?

I booked most of my accommodation before leaving, but intentionally left a few days vacant at the end of my trip, as I wasn’t sure where I would like to spend them. Encouraged by some pleasant reviews of the Airbnb service from friends, I downloaded the app on my smartphone and started browsing for accommodation.

Types of accommodation on the service vary from spare rooms or beds rented out by homeowners, to full-scale bed and breakfasts or apartment buildings run by staff. After browsing accommodations for a few hours, I inquired about a booking that had an abundance of five-star reviews. I received a response in near-perfect English informing me that the room was available, but if I was interested, there was also a better room available in Shinjuku. Excited by this, I requested a booking through the app; unfortunately this is where I ran into some trouble.

Airbnb requires some basic proof of identity before you can use the service, however, you can also provide more credentials to put your host’s mind at ease. Airbnb also selects 25 per cent of users at random and insists that they provide extra proof of identification; I was ‘lucky’ enough to be chosen to provide this.  

This process was an absolute nightmare. Airbnb simply did not have the staff to manage my ‘Verified Identification process’, which was frustrating as I was given a strict 12 hours in which to do so.

The process required connecting with Facebook. Unfortunately my online social life isn’t as glamorous as Airbnb would have liked, and therefore there wasn’t enough information to prove my existence. Next up was providing scans of my passport and driver’s licence, which bizarrely still wasn’t enough proof (even though they got me through immigration without any trouble). The final step was recording an embarrassing video of myself explaining that I am indeed a human.

At this stage I was left hanging. After a few hours of waiting for my video to be verified, I contacted the ‘help’ team and found them anything but helpful. After the 12 hours was up, my booking was cancelled and I wasn’t allowed to make another for a specified time. Frustrated I considered booking a hotel but decided in the end to contact the host directly.

I explained what had happened. They were very sympathetic and offered to pick me up from a train station to arrange the booking the old fashioned way, face to face, paying with cash. Perfect.

From here on it was smooth sailing, the host was nice, the room was cheap, clean and comfortable and the location was incredible, just a few minutes away from the train station. After the initial hassle, the only further frustration was struggling to understand the complicated rules of rubbish disposal in the building.

Although my experiences with Airbnb are far from perfect, most of the stress could have been avoided if I planned further ahead, and made my booking whilst still in Australia. Airbnb is so cheap because it cuts out a lot of the staff, who ultimately make hotel stays so stress free. And while nine times out of 10 this probably doesn’t cause any problems, when it does go wrong, you’re largely on your own.

It hasn’t put me off though – if at first you don’t succeed and all that – I will use the service again next time I travel. Having now verified my identity I don’t expect any further problems and I’m excited to meet some more friendly hosts.

Have you used Airbnb? Were your experiences pleasant or painful?

Written by ryanbo



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