With friends raving about their great travel experiences around the world staying in people’s homes in different cities, villages and towns by booking through the online platform Airbnb, I didn’t want to be left behind.
The perfect opportunity came up when a friend from Europe came visiting. We checked out the Airbnb website from across continents, and made our pick.
It was smooth sailing once we logged on to the Airbnb website, becoming proud members of the fraternity and making our choice. After narrowing down to the price range we were comfortable with, the dates and area we wanted, we paid online without a hitch.
Our “home” on Airbnb had only a few reviews — actually very few compared with other locations — but all were good. Google map gave us the approximate location.
The confirmation came with a reference number and the phone number of the hosts. Check-in was any time after 3 pm, and there was nothing that said to call prior to arrival. So far, so good.
I decided to call. The person on the other side of the line had no clue what I was talking about. Still l wasn’t too concerned, thinking I had keyed in the wrong number. I tried again; a drunk-sounding man answered and hung up.
The next few calls went unanswered, and the out-of-town friend was very much in town now. We decided to take a chance and drive to the house, hoping it would have a sign.
But there were many side roads running off the main road. We were out in the cold and in need of a room in a city late at night. The following morning we sent a complaint to Airbnb.
The Airbnb representative replied almost immediately, and apologised for our unfortunate experience. She promised to follow up the issue and get back to us within 24 hours.
And she did. She had checked and found our complaint to be true. Her calls had also gone unanswered. Airbnb reimbursed the money into our account, and offered us a bonus of the same amount when booking on Airbnb again.
As for the property that did not host us, it has since been delisted on Airbnb.
Chatting about the experience with Kathryn Combes of Soysambu Conservancy in Kenya, I found that her experiences with Airbnb were the exact opposite of mine — nothing short of enjoyable.
“Twice I had a good experience with Airbnb,” she said. “One in Cannes, France, and the other in Venice, Italy.
“In Cannes, the hosts stocked the fridge with wines, cheese and fruit from the region — we hadn’t even asked for this. The house was within walking distance of the Cannes film festival, which we had gone for.
"We (she and her siblings from the US) stayed for a week and at the end, the lady host even drove us to the airport.
“Both times, our hosts were really helpful and showed us around — like a local. It’s a much different experience from checking in at a hotel and was much cheaper for us. The houses were homely, comfortable and relaxed, and we’d go back to them.”
Combes’s advice is that when selecting Airbnb, it is most important to communicate personally with the owner prior to booking and arrival. This gives you the advantage of having a direct contact with the host.
“I am sure it makes them more comfortable letting the property to someone they know,” she said.