The Human Touch at Airbnbs
(This was originally a post I had written on Facebook back in April 2016, as a response to the following Medium article. It was written mostly as a personal reflection for friends to read. I am now publishing this on Medium a few months later.)
I saw this interesting piece today from the Medium digest. I wanted to also share my thoughts, which are perhaps only tangentially related to Jasmin’s post. They’re just some things on my mind about Airbnb traveling.
I was somewhat of an “early adopter” of Airbnb — not as a host, but as a guest, having started to try it out in 2012. I love traveling, this was a tech startup, and I like trying new things; so it’s a perfect match. I loved it after just using it once, much like the author here. (except on the opposite side of the host/guest relationship)
In the recent couple of years I’ve noticed a kind of a commercialization on Airbnb. This includes both people who run their Airbnb rentals like a business (or even as a business), and even actual housing agencies who use Airbnb as a way to list their commercial rental properties. That includes things like cabin rentals at Tahoe, or sometimes, even an actual guesthouse/hostel type of place listing their individual rooms on it.
There will probably always be people just renting out their homes, but it’s looking like it’s only a matter of time that commercial rentals will take over as majority of Airbnb listings. (I haven’t really looked at a lot of listing in various cities lately, it may already be the case now)
While I’m happy seeing a service that I love grow to scale, I also worry that Airbnb will be gradually losing an important part of its appeal, the human touch. To me, the low costs of room rental is only a small factor in the decision to go with an Airbnb while traveling; the bigger part is the interactions with the hosts.
I feel like I can most relate with this particular line in Jasmin’s post: “There’s something about staying with a stranger that you’ll likely never see again that makes people want to spill their guts.”
I think this is the magic of what makes the host/guest relationship so special to me. I’m actually surprised at how I find this fascinating myself, because I’m an introvert and usually find talking in a group situation or a party generally uncomfortable.
One of my most memorable interactions with a host was from, I believe, my second Airbnb stay ever in Paris, a few years ago. My hosts were two girls from South America studying abroad in Paris. I primarily interacted with one of them, who was from Argentina and living in Paris at the moment.
In the morning that I was packing up to leave and bidding farewell to her, right before I was going to walk out, she asked me about some issues she was having with her iPhone. She showed me her phone, and there was some crazy crashing issue going on on her phone, and I didn’t really know how to solve it. I forgot how I phrased it, but I said something along the lines of her phone having some problems. (I may have phrased it as “I think you have some problems with the phone.”) She let out a light sigh and said “Yeah, I have a lot of problems…” I could sense that there was a lot behind those words. It caught me a bit by surprise and I wasn’t really sure how to react. I hadn’t really been used to having this type of conversation with people, except with really close friends. That, and my mind was thinking about catching the train to the next city I was going; I did not stay and chat. We gave each other a hug, and I went on my way.
I know Airbnb gets a lot of bad press — disasters with terrifying renters ruining houses, as well as tax and regulation problems with local governments. Maybe Jasmin’s post itself is a piece sponsored by Airbnb for good press. I just wanted to give a little personal point of view of it. I think Airbnb enables a type of human interaction that is otherwise not possible or very difficult to encounter (especially for the more introverted of us who don’t attend bars or any other social setting, really). Perhaps the best years of Airbnb have already passed, and if that’s the case, I’m glad to have been a part of it.