I recently returned from visiting Italy and for the first time used airbandb.com to find and book accommodations for a considerable number of nights. Now, whenever I share my experiences of this wonderful country with my friends, they eagerly ask for my opinion about the differences between airbandb.com and hotels. It is not surprising if you consider that relatively few people had direct and multiple experiences staying with the hosts of this well publicized, but quite new platform. Most people, who ever traveled, have experienced hotel services.
My personal experience of airbandb.com was relatively positive as the process of room selection, booking and payment is substantially simpler than most hotel booking services. In most cases (81%) the description of properties and their reviews by the guests were specific, authentic and accurate. The price, and ability to pre-pay that eliminates effects of currency fluctuation, offer substantial value advantage over the comparable hotel room rates.
One of the most important attributes of customer experience is consistency of its delivery. Customers want to know that their expectations, created by company marketing messages, are going to be met. Every time. Most of us know what to expect when we book a hotel room. Judging by the analysis of 45K customer reviews, published on sites like tripadvisor.com and yelp.com, on an average 87% of guests have their expectations met or exceeded. I could not extract a similarly sized data set of airbandb.com customer reviews, but the one I got (~3K) has a substantially lower average satisfaction rating of 69%.
It appears the customer experience delivered by airbandb.com is more like Forrest Gump’s “box of chocolates – you never know what you gonna get”. While not explicitly promising to take care of any potential problems in interactions with hosts, the company does create the expectation of personalized service and local knowledge. I do appreciate the time difference complexity, but 12-15 hour lag in a e-mail response time to a critical customer problem, as we experienced with one of the bookings, is not acceptable. In terms of local knowledge and advice, only 60% of the hosts were willing or capable to provide anything of value.
Airbandb.com started as a “shared economy” platform for low cost accommodation rental, “air mattress bed and breakfast” and was a better alternative to a hostel. Now, many “room” hosts are small hotels, real b&b and real estate investors. That transformation was not clearly understood by me when I made my reservations and my experience did not meet my expectations of authenticity in 3 out of 5 hosts.
In summary, I would recommend to experiment with airbandb.com only if you have more time than money as the cost advantage is indisputable at this time.