Why do you need to be conscious when booking an Airbnb? Isn’t this the company that supports local families by letting them rent out rooms, and spread tourism to hidden corners of a city? Well, that is the myth Airbnb has been busting for years now. In reality, however, most Airbnb listings do not belong to local families, are located in the most popular and gentrifying neighbourhoods, and take off houses of the market for actual residents. It is still possible though to stay in an Airbnb and be a responsible traveller. In this article, I will tell you how you can find those Airbnb’s that are actually local (and therefore responsible) and usually more fun as well.
What are the issues with Airbnb?
If there is one thing I learned from my research, is that Airbnb is not only the picture-perfect that they portray. Yes, Airbnb apartments are often cheaper and easy to book through the platform but there are also some issues that come along with it. The issues mostly lay with the Airbnb apartments that are being operated commercially. Airbnb advocates that their platform helps local families make some extra money, but actually the majority of houses on Airbnb are not based on the home-sharing principle. This is a problem because those apartments often do not have the right permits to become vacation apartments. With the set-up of Airbnb, many apartments are now operating illegally as a tourist flat. Because it is much more profitable to rent out an apartment to tourists than to regular tenants who stay for a longer period of time, many investors have started buying up houses to rent them out on Airbnb, making big money out of it. This takes houses off the market for people who are looking for housing and drives up rental prices making cities and towns more unaffordable for those who live there.
The fun of actual home sharing
Investors are most likely out there to make easy money. Finding a fun a nice looking Airbnb apartment is therefore not very likely with those players involved. Apartments will meet basic requirements but little extra efforts will be made to make the place look cozy. What is more is that it will not even be close to the promised home-sharing experience of Airbnb, since nobody ever lives there. But home-sharing can be so much fun. For example, In July I stayed in a house in Venice that belongs to an elderly woman. In the spare room of her house she’d been welcoming guests during the summer for three years now. This way she is making some extra income and meeting people from around the world while I felt as if I was visiting my Italian grandmother.
When is Airbnb based on actual home-sharing?
There are actually many more of these Airbnb’s, but the question is how to figure out if they are based on actual home-sharing. The local aspect of an Airbnb plays a big role in home-sharing. Actual home-sharing can be done by either renting out a private room while the owner is there or, if you prefer a bit more privacy, by renting out an entire home when the owner is away (on vacation for example), ór has an additional building on their property. By using Airbnb this way your stay will be a lot more personal and you also know that you are not contributing to the issues related to many other Airbnb apartments. But how do you know which apartment is based on actual home-sharing and which is just another impersonal (and possibly illegal) tourist apartment?
Tips for choosing local and fun Airbnb’s
When it comes to choosing an Airbnb responsibly, there are numerous things that you can pay attention to, from simply taking a look at the pictures to investigating the host. Here are some tips to make your search a little easier:
1. Scroll through the pictures- does the place look somewhat like what you would expect from a personal apartment or house? Are there any personal items like books and pictures? Are there plants (that need to be kept alive)? Is there a proper kitchen? Most people like to have a somewhat homey feel to their apartment so if these things are not present, chances are that nobody lives in the place.
2. Scan the reviews – did other people describe being in touch with the host like getting local recommendations or being served breakfast? If this is the case people will usually write something about that. How is check-in arranged? If you need to use a lock-box instead of being welcomed by an actual person, it is quite probable that your stay will be less personal.
3. Have a look at the type of advertisement – is the apartment listed as ‘instant book’? Personally, I would like to know who’s coming and when before accepting a request, so this is probably another indicator that you will not stay in a local Airbnb. Another thing to take into account is the number of listings a host has. You can see this by clicking on the host’s profile. If there are multiple (and all look similar) you know you are most likely dealing with a commercial operator.
Add to the experience yourself – keep it personal
Hopefully, these tips will help you find cool and local home-sharing options when booking an Airbnb from now on as well. Keep in mind though, if you want a personal experience, make sure to contribute to this yourself as well. When you book, do not treat the owner as if it were a hotel service but write a personal message and respect the owner and the rules. Is home-sharing not for you? Sure, but then make sure to book your apartment through a website that offers legal tourist apartments so your preferences do not disrupt the lives of people living in cities and other destinations too much. No matter our choices and preferences, this way we can all be responsible travellers!
A little note: since this article was written, Airbnb has also evolved. There are now also many official holiday houses (that are not illegal) listed on the platform. Look for a license number or other type of official registration as a holiday house (these are mostly found outside cities).