Instead of copying travel sites like Expedia and Travelocity, Airbnb takes a unique approach toward lodging. Part of the “sharing economy,” Airbnb offers you someone’s home as a place to stay, instead of a hotel. On Airbnb, you can find places to crash on your backpacking trip through Europe, or you can find a place to stay for a month during your internship in Los Angeles. Also, if you want to rent out extra space in your own home, you can host through Airbnb and make money for allowing a guest to stay the night.
This all sounds pretty simple, but what is Airbnb exactly? Here’s what you need to know about the popular home-sharing site before you book a stay or become a host.
Airbnb had a rough start
Airbnb founders Joe Gebbia, Brian Chesky, and Nathan Blecharczyk developed the business in 2008. Initially, Gebbia and Chesky started off using their own place as a bed and breakfast to make a few extra bucks to pay rent. With a big design conference coming to the San Francisco area and a city full of sold-out hotels at the time, they saw a potential market for the idea and developed a website called airbedandbreakfast.com. To fund their operation, the guys sold breakfast cereals during the 2008 presidential race — Obama O’s and Cap’n McCains — and the cereals earned them around $30,000.
Airbnb was not an immediate success, though. The startup experienced several ups and downs, and it went through at least three separate launches. A number of investors didn’t take the idea seriously. However, one venture capitalist, Paul Graham, did see a potential lottery ticket in Air Bed & Breakfast. Graham invited the founders to join a program called Y Combinator, which provides a startup with cash and training in exchange for a percentage of their company. In 2009, Air Bed & Breakfast became Airbnb, and that was the company’s turning point. As of May 2018, Airbnb was worth $38 billion, Forbes reports.
How Airbnb works for guests
Airbnb does not own any properties. It acts as an intermediary between those who want to rent out space and those who are looking for space to rent. Creating an account on Airbnb is free, and it is relatively simple. To do so, you enter your name, email address, birthday, and a password. Airbnb also asks that you agree to treat everyone equally, regardless of race, religion, sex, or other factors. Once you agree, your account is active. You also have the option to sign up through Facebook or Google.
Airbnb has listings all over the map, from Savannah, Georgia, to Honolulu, Hawaii, to international listings. Airbnb currently has more than 5 million listings in 81,000 cities around the world. Once you click on a listing, you can see a range of information about that listing, including the size of the space and its amenities, check-in and pricing information, a detailed description of the space, house rules, safety features, and availability. You will also see reviews from other guests and information about the hosts. For instance, the hosts of a listing in Honolulu say they “love surfing, scuba diving, kite surfing, running, and hiking the beautiful nature trails on Oahu.”
If you like the listing, you can request to book it. The site prompts you to go through a few more steps, like entering in more of your information and including a profile picture. Once you complete those steps, you can complete your request and pay for your room. After your first booking, the process is much quicker and easier.
Before your reservation is final, however, you must wait for approval from the host, unless your listing is an “instant book” listing, as those listings don’t require host approval.
For non-instant book listings, Airbnb also recommends that guests message hosts before booking to double check availability. If you don’t hear back from the host in a timely manner, you can continue to message other hosts in the area until you find one you like. Under the host information section of each listing, you can see the host’s response rate and response time to get an idea of how quickly a host will respond to your message.
Airbnb is now offering a new ‘tier’ of homes called Airbnb Plus, an elite selection of properties that Airbnb representatives will have personally inspected and identified as top of the line. The average price for these is around $250 per night, for rentals where guests can expect a well-stocked kitchen, fast Wi-Fi, and comfortable bedding.
How Airbnb works for hosts
Airbnb has three different hosting options — you can rent out the extra space in your home, you can host for others in your neighborhood as a neighborhood co-host, or you can host experiences in your area.
To rent out extra space in your home, you must first create a free Airbnb account. Then, you click on “become a host” in the upper right-hand corner of the page. After that, you’ll need to create a listing for your space. A listing is a lot like a profile page for the space you want to host; just like a social media profile, the nicer your page looks, the more attention it will draw. It’s a good idea to make your space look as nice as possible and take flattering pictures of the space. How much should you charge? Airbnb helps you set pricing by indicating the averages for your area.