I’m going to start out this article by saying that I have a very strong opinion when it comes to this question. I will come down on the hotel side of the equation every single time. Or, well, every single time but one. Maybe two. But that’s it.
Anyway, while I realize that Airbnb’s have become very popular in recent years, I have to say I can’t much wrap my head around why. In my mind, the pros simply don’t outweigh the cons. And there are a lot of cons.
Adam Ruins Everything touches on a few of the broader issues in this video:
He talks about the lack of safety and protections Airbnb provides for both renters and rental owners, along with problems caused by lack of regulation, and the detrimental affect short-term rentals have on locals’ abilities to find a place to live. As someone who tries hard to travel ethically, the points he makes are important ones.
But beyond that, I’ve just never had a good Airbnb experience.
I’d stayed at seven Airbnb’s before deciding it wasn’t for me. (Although that’s a bit misleading, as when I went to Finland, I had three short-term rentals booked, and was well and truly done with them long before the trip was over. But I wasn’t about to book a hotel instead and lose the money I’d spent on the vacation rental.) There are a few reasons I never plan to stay at one again.
First off, when I’m on vacation, I don’t want to have to do the things that I’d normally do at home. At an Airbnb, I have to make my own bed, wash my own dishes, and take out my own garbage. There’s also the potential of having to cook, one of my most hated activities. In fairness, when I’m travelling on my own, regardless of where I’m staying, cooking simply isn’t happening. But when travelling with a friend, I do find they tend to want to ‘eat in’ at least once for each apartment rental, and I simply don’t see the point of having frozen pasta while in Italy.
Then there’s the lack of convenience aspect. Most hotels are staffed 24 hours, and the ones that aren’t at the very least have someone there from early morning ’til late at night. So if anything goes wrong with my travel plans – a flight or train is delayed, or I get lost – it’s not a big deal. I’ll arrive when I arrive, and someone will be there to give me my room key. Such is not the case with Airbnb’s. Of the seven I’ve stayed in, four times I had some sort of delay that caused me stress because I knew there was someone waiting for me to arrive and I was holding them up, and three times the apartment owner wasn’t there when I arrived.
On one of those occasions, after waiting on the sidewalk for half-an-hour, looking longingly at the Radisson Blu across the street, I went to a cafe on the corner to see if I could use their wifi to contact the apartment owner, and when I walked in, dragging my suitcase up the steps behind me, the staff member at the counter asked if I was Donna. When I said yes, he handed me the apartment keys. It turned out the owner had decided he couldn’t wait for me because he had a “serious night of videogaming” planned, had forgotten I’m not connected when I travel so would not get any messages even though I’d reminded him of that fact not 24 hours before, and had left the keys at the cafe but not the actual apartment number, so I had to walk through the building trying every door to figure out where I was supposed to stay. The same owner left me a note with the wifi password but not the network name (in an apartment building in the heart of downtown, so there were about 50 to choose from), and walked into the apartment without even knocking while I was trying to figure out how to connect because he hadn’t heard from me yet so figured I wasn’t there.
On top of the questionable ethics, iffy service, and the fact that when I’m on vacation I want to feel like I’m on vacation (dammit!), there’s never knowing exactly what you’re getting. The listing for the place I stayed at in Rome, for example, went on about the beautiful courtyard … which, I learned upon arrival, guests weren’t allowed to access.
That same apartment was listed as a two bedroom, but turned out to be one bedroom with a pull-out sofa in the living room. And due to lack of regulations and customer support, when met with that kind of discrepancy, there’s little recourse.
To be fair, however, I did mention at the start of the article that there are a couple of reasons I’d consider staying in a short-term rental instead of a hotel. One of those reasons is the type of building the Airbnb is located in. I once stayed in a converted palace, in Siena, Italy, and I have to say, there was a certain level of awesome about that.
And while I’ve never been in one place long enough for it to be a consideration, if I’m staying put for over a week, for the cost savings alone, I’ll at least consider an Airbnb as opposed to a hotel.
Am I saying that every hotel I’ve stayed in has been perfect? Fuck no! I’ve had some not-so-great experiences at hotels, too. But I’ve had issues at 100% of the Airbnb’s I’ve stayed at – even the pretty cool palace, whose owner said he’d book us a cab for the morning and then messaged in the middle of the night to say he hadn’t and we were on our own – while I’ve been perfectly content with easily 95% of my hotel stays.
From a strictly numbers perspective, there’s no doubt in my mind that hotels are the better choice.