AirBnB has blown up in recent years and is now actually one of the most popular ways to find accommodation for your chosen destination. The principle of letting out your spare space one night at a time is very simple, and this gives another option to people travelling, one which is often cheaper and sometimes even more convenient. If you are travelling with a group you can sometimes get crazy deals on some amazing properties by pooling together and getting an AirBnB.
It is worth explaining that the vast majority of stays on AirBnB are totally safe and go without issue. Any app that connects people is going to run some risk of people having disagreements or abusing their system. The media reports of things that go wrong are bound to get people talking, but these are few and far between.
There have been horror stories, though. It is inevitable that such a popular service should have some incidents, and there is always an element of trust involved when staying with a stranger, or in a stranger's property. AirBnB can't possibly regulate every stay. They estimate that 2 million people on any given night are staying in one of these properties, which are available in over 60,000 cities around the world. So, is this a safe way to travel? What can you do to stay safe when booking? Here is the AirBnB Safelist.
The company has put a real emphasis on reviews and profiles on their site, probably as a way to try and ensure that there is a barrier for the people who aren't who they say they are. We're fortunate enough to live in an age of review, where bad experiences can be documented. Realistically, anything under a four-star average for reviews should start to send alarm bells.
Don't just look at the average though. If a property has 3.5 or 4-star reviews it may still be okay, depending on what the reviews actually say. It may have lower reviews due to location or other issues, but this may not put you off. As long as you know you will be safe and secure then.
While one bad review isn't necessarily going to be enough to put you off, you will need to use your discretion to look at what the reviews say. A one-star review because there was a party next door isn't great, but it is far better than an accusation against the host.
Another thing to take into account is how many reviews there are. While every host has to start somewhere, it is much easier to trust someone that has 50 good reviews as opposed to two or three. Also, the fewer reviews there are the more likely they are to be faked or not totally genuine, as people have been known to use friends to fake reviews to get them started.
The profile of the host should play a big part in your decision. Not only can you use their profile to see reviews if they have more than one property, you can also view their verification and linked accounts. AirBnB does now vet their hosts and they will get a verified tick if they have provided official ID to prove they are who they say they are. This is a basic precaution and if it isn't on a hosts profile it should be a red flag.
The profile may also have a ‘Superhost' badge. This is something that reliable hosts aim for, and is a badge of honour received after a lot of successful bookings and good reviews. Not always essential, but if you see this sign you can rest a little easier.
A good host will be more than happy to talk. A lot of top hosts have a 100% message response rate and will be really happy to talk to you about the proposed stay and any other questions you have. If you come across a host who is flaky or doesn't communicate, steer well clear as they are unlikely to take the due care and attention to make your stay comfortable and safe.
4. Research the Area
It can be easy to go onto AirBnB and just find a property that looks acceptable and is free when you need it, but if you don't know anything about where you are staying it can be easy to end up in an area that isn't suitable. Every town and city has its nice parts and its less-than-nice parts. It may not even be the fault of your host, but if you stay in an area where the trouble is common you may fall foul of it.
5. Keep Communications Within AirBnB
This gives you an extra level of protection. There is no need for a host to want to contact you outside of the confines of the website or app. This becomes worrying when they start requesting payment outside of the app. If they contact you away from the safety of the site it is likely that they have some sort of ulterior motive, either scamming you out of money or worse.
6. Private Properties
If you are worried about sharing a property with someone, you don't have to. Whereas some people use the platform to rent out just a private room or even a couch, many people are renting out their second properties (or even their own home when they are travelling themselves). If you are worried about who else might be sleeping under the same roof, you can search for private properties instead of shared.
7. Trust Your Gut
Our human intuition is an incredible thing, and if something doesn't feel quite right with the property, the reviews or the interaction you have with the host, don't book. There are likely to be other options out there that will leave you with more peace of mind so you aren't forced to take risks. If the property doesn't fill you with confidence, avoid it and search for alternatives.
8. Be Prepared for Emergencies
This is always a good practice when you are travelling anyway. Wherever you are going, you should know how to contact emergency services, have a phone with plenty of charge on you and even have things like travel insurance documents available at all times. It doesn't hurt to know where doctors are and to learn some local phrases too. This is precautionary but makes sense if you are staying somewhere new.
I have rented with AirBnB since 2016 and stayed in over 40 properties from a few days to a few months. I have only had twice a situation whereby I had to call to contact AirBnB customer support. They are excellent and in both situations, they offered credit to make a new booking or help out with an alternative.
The risks of staying in an AirBnB are pretty low, but following the tips in our AirBnB safelist will make sure these risks are even less. Booking on the site for the first time can be a little daunting and sometimes the very rare horror stories can be what stay with us instead of the millions of stays that go off without a hitch. Communicate clearly and gather all the information you can on the host, area and property and you are likely to have an enjoyable and stress-free stay.