Airbnb has become one of the most popular ways for modern travelers to find unique accommodations around the world. As avid travelers, we've found everything from an organic farm stay in Belize to a studio apartment in the heart of Hong Kong on Airbnb, and it has certainly enhanced almost all of our travel experiences. We also manage a property in Belize and have experienced the pros and cons of being Airbnb hosts. We'll share our thoughts on the platform from both a guest and host experience and help you answer the question, "is Airbnb worth it?"
What is Airbnb?
First off, let's define what Airbnb stands for. It's short of Air Bed and Breakfast and was founded in August 2008 as a startup. Today, it is a company worth over $1 billion and is present in 192 countries worldwide. An online community marketplace, Airbnb is part of the sharing economy and it helps connect people looking to rent out their homes to travelers looking for a place to stay. At first, Airbnb appealed mainly to budget travelers, but today it is used by everyone from couch surfing tourists to savvy business travelers looking for a memorable experience.
There are two types of Airbnb users. One is the host who lists his or her property on the website. Property types can range from a couch in a home, a single room, apartment, moored yacht, houseboat, or even an entire house or estate. Hosts can create a listing for free and they determine how much to charge on a nightly, weekly, or monthly basis. Airbnb profits by taking a percentage of the total cost paid by the guest, who is the other type of Airbnb user.
How does Airbnb work?
As a marketplace, Airbnb has a database of property listings from around the world. Guests can search this database at any time to find a suitable property and submit a request to stay there. Hosts can approve or reject the request by examining the guest's profile. This is what establishes trust and safety, so it is important to have a thoughtful and honest profile as either or host or guest. If the host approves the travel request, the guest makes a payment online. Airbnb will then hold the payment for 24 hours after the guest checks in before releasing payment to the host.
Making Money on Airbnb
When hosting on Airbnb, there is certainly a decent amount of profit to be made. Most hosts will charge at least $50 per night, but the cost depends on location and the quality of your offering. You should also factor in other costs of hosting such as:
- cleaning costs
- higher utility bills
- providing guest amenities (soap, toilet paper, etc)
- Airbnb's host fee (3% for payment processing)
At the end of the day, being an Airbnb host can certainly bring in a substantial amount of money. But it can also be a part-time or even full-time job when you account for the time and money needed to be a rave-worthy host.
Pros of Airbnb
All in all, Airbnb can be beneficial to both hosts and guests.
For hosts, Airbnb provides property owners the opportunity to make use of extra space or property while earning side income. Some Airbnb hosts can make a lot of money just by renting their properties out. Airbnb also fosters a new kind of travel that encourages travelers to venture outside of comfortable tourist zones and off the beaten path. This is definitely our favorite aspect of using Airbnb.
As Airbnb hosts, we love the opportunity to get to know people from other parts of the world and share our unique travel insights with them. I mean, who better to ask for travel recommendations than someone who actually lives there? Airbnb is currently pushing this benefit in the form of its new experience hosts service that allows locals to create, sell, and host experiences for travelers.
Airbnb also offers many benefits to travelers, namely those looking for a unique experience outside of traditional hotels and motels. This was our key reason for using Airbnb during our month-long trip to Asia. We wanted to visit different cities in Asia while getting a chance to experience life as a local. You definitely can't achieve this by staying in a hotel in a touristy area, but you totally can by staying in an Airbnb. Sometimes, we lucked out by renting out an entire apartment to ourselves. However, we also valued renting out a room where our host was present. The interaction with a local is definitely a unique aspect of using Airbnb.
Cons of Airbnb
For all of the pros of using Airbnb as both a host and guest, there are also some drawbacks or things that might make you wonder is Airbnb worth it?
One of the biggest drawbacks of being an Airbnb host is the fact that you really have to get into the hospitality mindset. Hosting Airbnb guests definitely is not as a simple as hosting close friends or family. Many guests are seeking top notch accommodations including a clean room and bathroom, clean sheets and towels, and easy access to the host if problems arise. Some hosts might thrive on this, while others may find the hospitality aspect to be more than they bargained for. If the host doesn't perform to guest expectations, host profiles can get bad reviews that will deter future travelers from booking the listing. Guests may even be eligible to receive a refund for bad service, so you could also lose out monetarily. Luckily, Airbnb introduced the ability for hosts to hire a local co-host to help out.
Airbnb hosts also need to make sure they are following local laws for renting their properties out. Some cities such as New York don't permit short-term renting, while others might require you to obtain special licenses or pay a specific tax.
The best way to avoid a negative Airbnb hosting experience is to be honest and upfront about your hosting style and what you have to offer in your profile and listing. Take photos and write descriptions that will help guests frame their expectations. If you can't guarantee a sparkling clean and organized rental for every guest, don't publish picture-perfect photos. Some guests will be ok with this, but it's all about giving them a sense of what to expect.
As a guest, the main risk in using Airbnb is no guarantee of what to expect. Unlike a major hotel chain, it's often hard to know if the host will be attentive and easy-going, or lazy and hard to get a hold of. A majority of our Airbnb experiences have been overwhelmingly positive, but we have had a few situations where the host was difficult to get along with. It was never a bad situation, but it certainly wasn't as easy as interacting with a hotel concierge who does the job professionally.
Another risk of using Airbnb to find accommodations is the fact that some property listings are illegal. State and local laws vary when it comes to renting a property. For example, in New York, it is illegal to sublet a home, apartment or room for less than 30 days unless you are a resident. Many other cities and countries have similar laws. While Airbnb issues this warning to hosts and guests on its website, there are no guarantees that the listings are 100% legal. Personally, we have rented out several Airbnb units where these laws were pretty clearly being violated. By the time we figured it out, it was too late to cancel, so we just had to roll with it. While nothing bad has ever happened to us, it's always a big risk.
Negative guest experiences typically have to do with unrealistic expectations. If you're expecting a 5-star luxury Airbnb experience, you should read the listing in its entirety and closely examine the photos before making a commitment. Airbnb requires host listings to be extremely honest and accurate, so what you see should be what you get. If not, you could appeal to Airbnb for a refund.
Is Airbnb Worth It?
The answer depends entirely on why you're trying Airbnb in the first place. If you're a host looking to meet new people and make some income off of an extra space or property that you have, Airbnb can be extremely beneficial. Just make sure you get into a hospitality mindset and that you get the necessary licenses and permits to legally rent your space out. Curious about how to become a stellar host? Check out these Airbnb tips for hosts. If you're a guest seeking a unique travel experience, Airbnb can definitely help you find something special. Just read the listing very carefully to understand what you're in for.
Have you tried Airbnb before? What was your experience like, and is Airbnb worth it to you? Let us know in the comments below.
Bonus: Airbnb Promo Code
Airbnb has enhanced our travel experiences, and we'd love for you to try it out for yourself. Use the promo code in this link to get a $20 credit toward your next Airbnb adventure.