My first experience of this nature, was with Housetrip. I found myself in Paris quite suddenly for an extra two weeks with few accommodation options. The prospect of staying in a hotel for this length of time was stifling. Apartments were few at such short notice and the guest house, tedious. It was time to test this accommodation option, so I trawled through the home stay options available - two given that I needed it for the next day. In the end I had one choice and hoped it wouldn't be too horrendous.
In theory I loved the idea of stepping into Parisian everyday life; into the regular apartment and experience. Everyday life almost anywhere sounded fab, give or take a destination or two. But as I stepped over the bottles and footwear, spilling out onto the bathroom and bedroom floors, I was sure this wasn't what I had in mind. Instead of stepping into someone else's home, I was stepping literally into their shoes if I didn't dodge the tiled floors with care. There was no room for anyone let alone a paying guest and the financial transaction prompted an expectation that niggled. The lack of respect was a hard thing to overlook.
I must have hated it in the end because thereafter I'd only searched uninhabited apartments. On the whole it worked well, the places had been clean, well furnished and I loved the experience of living the non- tourist encounter, a native adventure. Which in a group made sense over the hotel or guest house options, given the extra utilities and space.
Never say never. On a similar cocktail of despair and whim, I decided I was bound for Florence a few hours before I arrived. The notion of a hotel didn't fit with the spirit of the trip or the desired experience, and lacking imagination I lazily opted for the Airbnb. And as an advocate of Service Design, it was on my list to try the 'family home' option across the spectrum of experiences comprising the 'Airbnb'. One family offered cooking lessons and the immersive experience in Italian culture appealed.
The organisation and timely response of my host was fab but the cheery texts and glossy pictures faded abruptly with the feeling that I'd been injected into their home. I might as well have knocked on a random door and asked to stay, the impact was no less significant. The effort to suppress their financial need to host was betrayed through the sighing and huffing that went on, so much so, that within five minutes I found myself assuring them I wouldn't make a sound. I understood that it was their home... They told me communal areas was open to guests, but it would take a fairly oblivious character to miss the signs from this couple. I would sacrifice my life quicker that go into the kitchen and make that coffee.
Would I repeat this? A resounding No. The blurred lines between hospitality and home created a distressing experience. Was the radio too loud? (I could hardly hear it). Are my shoes making a sound? (No, I'm too afraid to move). Is my phone volume off? (No way can I take incoming mobile calls!) This wasn't a home from home, but the imprisonment in the private intimate space of another persons home.
When not concentrating on being the quietest possible version of myself, I find myself disentangling expectations. Yes, I had a place to sleep and shelter over my head, I had a beautiful view. I had a base to explore, but something was missing from the anticipated experience. The welcome perhaps? It reminded me of the previous writing residencies I'd undertaken. However desperate for the bursary funding offered, such places often resented the presence of outsiders disturbing their daily practise and lives. This was exactly the same. It was the difference between having to offer the space and wanting to, as in business. And the blurred lines of private and public in the Airbnb meant it lacked the feeling of a defined business transaction and framework - with nothing standardised. Everything resting upon an unwritten code of conduct and stepping tactfully between the lines.
Afterwards in the closing two minute conversation I had with the couple as I was leaving, they tell me they work in the hospitality business. This explains a further factor; the degree of blur. They literally never escape work, so host and home become even more tricky. Hotels are defined places of work, while the Airbnb offers in contrast were created as an exchange, space in an apartment to help pay rent or mortgage. Even if in their more evolved state, they have become more than this.
So given all of this, are they really a threat to the hotel? What do people imagine the Airbnb is, a hotel with added freedoms? The hotel however, has a specific function to provide a room away from home, often with breakfast and always with service, and it is something you can expect. With the Airbnb, you might get a bed, you might get a toaster, a dishwasher, one cup or ten, but whatever you get is always a gamble. Which makes me think that what hotels may need to do is highlight what they do offer over and above the Airbnb (the certainty) and then spell that out to their customers. Listing the kind of assurances they can provide, they will find a customer base who will never settle for less than a gaurantee.