Bed and breakfast is what they sell, but this accommodation facilitation company aims to make unique travel experiences by connecting travellers to local cultures, communities and interests.
“I took my pet along with me and had several friends come over. No restrictions. It was a very personal experience and the hosts were super friendly,” fondly shares Azaman Usmani, a journalist from Mumbai. Usmani had rented an Airbnb flat for his recent respite and it cost him “way lesser than a hotel room.”
Staying in an Airbnb listing instead of a hotel has been trending in India for some time now. The company has been present in the country for about six years now, and after its official launch in 2016, it has been garnering positive responses from an ever-growing tribe of Indian travellers. Country manager, Amanpreet Bajaj asserts that the company has been responding to the impressive 115 pc listing growth on its India site, taking the total count to 18,000 home-stays across 100 cities. The numbers are equally overwhelming on the global scale, with the company having catered to 140 million total guest arrivals.
Now, a major trend when it comes to travelling, Airbnb’s beginning was a rather humble one.
Providing ‘bed & breakfast’ facilities to travellers, Airbnb actually started in a spare bedroom that was rented out by two unemployed Rhode Island School of Design alumni. Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia hosted an Indian design student who was visiting San Francisco for a conference. The ‘bed & breakfast’ concept was a hit right there.
The USD 1.5 billion company has only grown ever since, around the world and in India. The company has around 17,000 homes listed on its Indian platform and has over three million listings around the world where they try to curate ‘unique experiences’ for travellers.
Airbnb tries and connects travellers to the place they are visiting by providing them home-stays and thus, a local experience which they get by staying with local people and eating what they eat. Often the bed and breakfast is accompanied by exchange of some information that comes handy to a traveller.
“A perk of staying with Airbnb hosts is the local food. It is better even if it isn’t all that fancy. It is also reliable. My hosts gave me tips that I doubt staff at any hotel would ever share. They told me of cheaper and better ways to explore the place,” says Rehan Hooda, a tech journalist from Mumbai.
Hooda had used an Airbnb stay on his trip in the summer of 2016 to the town of Gokarna in southern India. “Airbnb is much cheaper than hotel accommodations. It is safer too and my hosts took care of everything,” Hooda tells us.
And, there is more to Airbnb offerings based on individual travelling patterns and preferences.
“I rented an entire flat to myself for a two day sojourn in Pune last year. I was sharing it with my friend and we both cooked at our leisure, making ourselves comfortable and feeling at home,” says Seerat Chabba, a writer from Bengaluru. “We also had the option of having a cook come over,” she tells us, talking about the perks of staying in an Airbnb house. “I had the entire flat to me, it was like I owned it for those two days,” she exclaims.
Airbnb tries to provide ‘local, cultural experiences’ to travellers. At times, these experiences are luxuriously crafted to cater to international visitors with varied and colourful interests.
Last year, Airbnb, in partnership with Disney Pixar’s movie Finding Dory, created a floating bedroom on one of the largest natural wonders on the planet, the Great Barrier Reef, where the movie is set. For the first-time ever, people got a chance to stay at the Reef.
“We strive to create unique experiences for our guests all across the world. We hope to continue this trend in India,” Bajaj was quoted by Indian media. Airbnb experiences can be availed in around 50,000 cities and more than 191 countries at different price points.
Airbnb around the world
The company operates from its 19 offices around the world and maintains good working standards, uniformity in services and customer-client relationships.
It makes sure that each of its listing is reviewed by travellers as this provides assurance to users. It also pushes hosts to maintain standards.
After the guests have stayed at one place, they get to review the host and the host reviews them back, enabling both parties in accruing reputation and simultaneously making it easier for guests to choose from the array of options in front of them.
“Before I picked up my Airbnb abode in Europe, I had checked all ratings and reviews online and also star hosts,” shares Aazam Ali Mir, who works at his family’s law firm in Mumbai. Ali was travelling to the Netherlands, Croatia and Norway, and chose to stay at an Airbnb all through his trip in Europe.
Interestingly, it has been observed that Europe accounts for 50 pc of outbound trips among Indian guests, followed by the Asia Pacific region, the United States and South Asia; and travel trends show that Paris, New York and London are the most preferred destinations followed by Singapore, Bali, Bangkok and Toronto.
“My stay, particularly in Amsterdam, was really nice where I stayed in a boat house. The host was a single mother of two and was very friendly and welcoming. To start with, she greeted us with a complimentary bottle of champagne and was helpful with providing other touristic information which came handy,” Ali recalls.
Airbnb claims that a lot of its hosts are women, especially in countries like India where safety is a major issue.
Airbnb also has a strong monetisation strategy aligned with the global market. They hold the payment until the guests arrive at the listing, to ensure they can help them in case they cancel or if they don’t find the listing as described.
Talking about the booking procedure, Ali says, “I had to make the entire payment online before my arrival,” adding, “It is usually a safe deal, but make sure all things are in place. During a trip I had planned to Spain, I had arranged for my Airbnb stay beforehand and made the payments. But, because I could not get my Schengen Visa, I had to cancel. Although, I called the hosts to return my amount and got their verbal assurance, the refund did not happen.”
Nevertheless, Ali has fond memories from his stay in the boathouse in the Netherlands, in a penthouse in Split City in Croatia and in a well furbished home in Oslo in Norway.
Airbnb has a stay to suit different pockets, styles and fancies. It has nearly 3,000 castles and 1,400 tree-houses on its listings. The travel company also partners with Thomas Cook to offer unique home-stay offerings to outbound Indian travellers, remaining true to their mission of creating a world where people can belong when they travel by being connected to local cultures and having unique travel experiences.