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Airbnb or Hotel?

by Vanessa Ullman

photography courtesy of Smart Host

It has only been 10 years since Airbnb revolutionized the travel industry. The concept of living in a stranger’s house is no longer out of the question, with the company boasting over four million listings worldwide.

Since its founding in 2008, 140 million people have used the service. Millennials account for close to 60% of all users who have booked on Airbnb, according to the company’s blog.

Even with polarizing rhetoric about immigration, the desire to travel to other cities, other countries, is still present. In 2016, travel and tourism brought in $7.2 trillion in revenue worldwide. Airbnb is thriving on this, as more and more people are choosing to pay less for more amenities, rather than sticking with the traditional hotel route.

In looking at a few major U.S. cities, it could be easy to claim that Airbnb is always the best choice. In places like Boston, Chicago, or New York, one can save upwards of $80 a night by opting out of a hotel. However, in contrast, cities such as Austin, Nashville, and San Diego show the reverse, with hotels providing a more budget friendly option.

Price aside, Airbnb can offer a unique experience by letting one escape the dreaded tourism bubble of hotels. In an interview with the chief executive of the company, Brian Chesky, he noted that Airbnb wants users to “live like a local.” It can be hard to do that with traditional lodging options, which can feel the same in whichever city you are staying. A Hampton Inn is a Hampton Inn, whether you are in Boise or Boston. That helps to explain why Airbnb can often beat out high-end hotels that offer an unexciting experience.

Chesky created the company on a whim with his friends after they could not afford to pay rent in San Francisco. The first version of the Airbnb website was, “only slightly better than Craigslist, which is pretty bad,” said Chesky.

After a few people took a chance on the seemingly questionable service, he realized that this small idea might actually be a success. Today, the service allows customers to experience a night on anything—from a yurt in Mongolia to a yacht in the Riviera.

“It turns out an Airbnb interaction basically takes the length of a relationship with a person and compresses it to a few hours,” said Chesky, after renting his apartment out for the first time.

For travelers who are not fond of sharing personal spaces, such as bedrooms or kitchens, Airbnb might not be for them. While the homes that people stay in can make one feel like a local, it does not come with a cleaning service, help desk, or restaurant.

Though some might not mind this, others could find this living style less like vacation, and more like real life. Other concerns, such as safety, reliability or proximity to a city center, might deter potential customers from trying out the website.

While each city—and each traveler—is different, Airbnb might be something worth looking into if you are comfortable with the idea of living in another person’s home. It might not have overtaken the hotel industry yet, but the trend is increasingly heading that way.

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