There’s definitely a lot of buzz right now surrounding San Francisco start-up Airbnb and the innovative way it allows accommodation owners to connect with potential customers. Since its debut in 2008, it has booked more than two million nights of lodging all over the world.
But what do B&B owners who have already received guests through Airbnb actually think of it? I asked Tony Tidswell, who owns and runs the beautiful Villa Roquette in Montblanc, a village in the Languedoc region of southern France. He first heard about Airbnb through the technology website TechCrunch.
“I like to keep up with what’s happening, particularly in the world of marketing,” he says. “I was impressed with Airbnb’s marketing strategy, so I approached them off my own bat and signed up in May 2010. We received our first Airbnb guest just 4 days later.”
So far, Tony has had a good experience with Airbnb, though he stops short of saying that it has brought him extra guests.
“We have to turn people away through June, July and August anyway,” he points out. “So I’m not sure that we’ve received any brand new business through Airbnb. What I do find very interesting about it is that repeat customers continue to book through it, in spite of the service fee. This implies a high degree of loyalty to the concept.”
Tony’s only slight criticism of Airbnb focuses on their search algorithm, which he feels isn’t quite smart enough yet.
“We’re located in Languedoc,” he says. “The problem is that if people search ‘languedoc’ it shows properties in the Normandy or Paris region because it finds places like ‘rue de languedoc.’ This is a bug on their system. Their algorithm needs to say something like ‘Do you mean Languedoc-Roussillon?’ on a drop-down menu when you search – or, more sensibly, simply default to Languedoc-Roussillon. I have reported this fault to Airbnb twice, but they have not responded, apart from telling me the question is closed. This is a pity, as I really like the Airbnb system, but if they’re not going to have a viable search facility on the site, only finding local street addresses, then their value is very limited.”
It also looks as though Airbnb will have to be careful when it comes to reputation management. Its success has inevitably resulted in imitators, like Wimdu and Airizu. But its response to those competitors hasn’t impressed Tony.
“I had no intention of signing up with these Airbnb clones,” says Tony. “But I didn’t like how bitchy Airbnb themselves were about the competition.”
So it looks as though Airbnb is here to stay. Though it has mostly been characterised so far as a way for private individuals to make extra money from their homes, it’s possible that it might ultimately be best suited to B&B owners like Tony, who, not to put too fine a point on it… know what they’re doing.