On a recent visit to the wonderful city of Paris, we decided to book an apartment in Montmartre (sometimes it’s nice to be in Paris as a couple instead of in a 12 bed hostel dormitory) using the website Airbnb for the first time. This is a non-sponsored review of our experience using the service and a look into the sort of place we were able to book as users of the website.
Airbnb is a site that’s been making a few big splashes in the short term rental travel industry. The basic premise is that a “host” can sign up with the website and then offer their room, apartment or house to other travellers for a fee that is generally a lot more reasonable than a hotel room.
The website acts as the directory for all of these rooms and apartments, and then becomes the middleman in the financial transaction. They are the ones that pay the host your money (and take their cut too of course), and they are also the ones you deal with if any problems arise with the place or the host.
Obviously this review is written from the perspective of a guest and not a host, so I can’t really comment on the host aspect of the site and the guidelines and functions surrounding that.
The site has a relatively simple design, but I like that sort of thing so it appeals to me. Lots of white and gray so their logo and other important info pops out. Your screen doesn’t feel too ‘busy’ so it makes a good first impression when you visit the site for the first time.
There is an easy to use search box on the homepage so you can start looking for a place straight away, otherwise a ‘Popular Cities’ tab covers off most of the, well, popular cities.
Once you create an account, you’re allocated a number of account specific links such as a ‘Dashboard’ and a ‘Profile’ page.
The ‘Profile’ page, it seems to me, provides a lot more use to hosts then it does to guests. There is an area where you can upload photos and videos of yourself so people can ‘get to know you’ – and there is also a ‘Trust and Verification’ page where you can connect your social media such as facebook and twitter, as well as verify your mobile phone number.
As a paying guest, there’s not really much of an incentive to do all this (apart from maybe upload a quick bio photo), but I can see how it helps hosts attract more guests if they can see that it’s a real person and not the classic ‘faceless guy’…
Although it is also possible some hosts may be picky in regards to new guest members who have no prior history with using Airbnb. Just don’t be faceless guy and you should be fine.
Even though, as guests, we know that reviews can sometimes be quite subjective – they still leave a remarkable impression and have massive influence over whether we decide to book a hostel/room/apartment/hotel or not.
So who decides if a review, say a negative one, remains up on the site or not? When is it deemed appropriate to remove? I decided to do a bit of research on Airbnb’s policy on this.
According to their website:
“…as a community that values honesty and transparency, a review will only be removed in the event that it violates our review guidelines. Reviews and review responses must follow these guidelines.”
Apart from the general policy and content guidelines of removing reviews that contain racism, profanity, endorsements of illegal activity and so on, they have also stated that they will remove a review if:
“Airbnb is provided with a valid court or appropriate law enforcement order requesting removal of a review.”
As with any website that has grown as quickly as they have, there has been a spate of naysayers who claim the review process is not as fair and transparent as claimed. I had a quick look through the room/apartment offerings in Paris and their reviews to see if I could I find a truthful and relatively negative review:
The Airbnb system is not a hotel, but you do expect a clean space when you arrive. Our experience (which I’ll cover more in-depth in a moment) was awesome, except there was only one towel for the two of us, granted it was a big towel but it was still quite annoying. Although overall I would leave a positive review, this is something that I would mention as constructive feedback (but I feel a bit petty even bringing it up in this review – I’m not really a prima donna, promise).
We wanted an apartment in a good location that was reasonably priced. We ended up finding a studio apartment right in the middle of Montmartre for only €60 a night.
Considering dorm beds in a hostel in Paris are around €25 – €30, and there are two of us, and hotels in a nice area of Paris will easily set you back way over €60, you can see why it makes so much more sense in a situation like this for us to book through a site like Airbnb.
The place we found promised excellent views in a studio apartment and had loads of fantastic reviews, so we thought, ‘Let’s do it!’
Booking and paying was easy and painless, we contacted the host to see if he would take us and if there was availability for the nights we wanted and he responded promptly that he could.
Once the reservation was confirmed, we paid the amount in full using our credit card. We only booked a few nights, so it wasn’t a massive amount. If you were booking a place long-term and doing this in advance, then it’s definitely something to keep in mind that a charge will be authorised on confirmation of the reservation.
Airbnb holds the money until AFTER your stay (the host does not receive it straight away) so there are avenues for a cancellation & refund prior to your reservation dates depending on the circumstances. Have a look at the listing you plan on booking, it should have a tab that will outline its cancellation policy.
Along with all of this, our host (Vincent) sent us a message with all the instructions on how to get there and we organised a time to meet at the address. We also swapped mobile numbers so we could contact each other if someone was going to be late.
We waited outside the front door of the address for about 10 minutes, and then Vincent our host strolled up with the keys.
He took us up six flights of winding stairs in this old feat of Parisian architecture, we reached the top (I may have been panting slightly since I was carrying our pack) and then entered a cosy studio apartment with incredible views.
Want to see exactly where we stayed? Click here to check it out!
Why write about it when I can just show you in pictures!
As you can imagine, Trudy and I were pretty stoked with the apartment we booked through Airbnb, especially considering its location in Montmartre and the fact it was only €60!
They had to deal with a negative PR storm mid last year (a host had their house trashed by a guest), which prompted a giant overhaul of their host safety features and guarantees, and a personal letter from Brian Chesky the CEO. I believe they’ve moved well past this situation now, although the internet is still sprinkled with articles about this event.
As guest users, Trudy and myself can both say we were absolutely delighted with our experience. The place was fantastic value for money and was extremely personable, homely and clean on arrival – and you saw the view and location we had! I would definitely use the service again without hesitation (and will in the future).
If I could summarise Airbnb in one sentence as a backpacker, I would probably say something like:
“It’s similar to CouchSurfing except you pay for it and don’t socialise with your host”
Maybe that doesn’t make it sound that appealing, but if you’re travelling as a couple and need a break from dorm rooms and CouchSurfing hosts (if you’re not socialising as part of your CouchSurfing experience you’re doing it wrong) – then something like Airbnb is perfect for this, and is often a MUCH better alternative to a cheap hotel.