My first airbnb vacation, or why I love well-designed peer-to-peer services

Inga Bergen

My name is Inga and I’m a Business Development Director and Consultant at Fjord in Berlin.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved travelling and meeting new people. When I was on the road as a student, affordability was paramount, so I stayed with friends, friends of friends, or at cheap hostels. When I started my professional life, I continued to stay at friends’ places whenever possible, even when I went on business trips. I just loved ending my days with a conversation with a person I knew, instead of siting in a hotel room watching TV.

But as time went by, most of my friends moved or started families and slowly, I changed my habits and got used to business hotels. Fortunately, I always worked at great companies that selected nice hotels for a good bargain, so I enjoyed being alone in the hotel room, and that was how I expected it to be for quite a while.

Then recently, on a vacation, I met two students who where heading to their couchsurfing place in Tel Aviv. I was somewhat jealous, because this gave them immediate contact with locals, which made it possible for them to experience the city in a very different way than I could in my decent boutique hotel at the Tel Aviv beach. But the couchsurfing concept was not for me: squatting on somebody’s couch and being fully dependent on the good goodwill of a stranger didn’t feel quite right.

A few months later, I discovered airbnb and then a couple of months later its German copycats Wimdu and 9flats.

I registered with my Facebook account and booked a place in Vienna. It was a nice experience, but not enlightening. I did not understand how transformative these concepts could be until I went on a two-week trip to California this summer. Airbnb in particular has seen huge growth in the US, so even in small towns, airbnb vacancies are available.

Before departing, I booked a place in San Francisco for my two friends and myself. The hosts did not accept immediately, they actually required that I write a little bit about myself- once I did, they accepted the booking and sent me their ‘welcome package’ – a full guidebook to their house, practical things like the wi-fi password, parking places and recommended restaurants nearby. This was a great experience, I felt accepted as a guest and warmly welcomed.

For three nights, we stayed at their place in Ashbury Hights, which was amazing. The neighborhood was perfect and the house was nicely decorated. The best thing were the two hosts: Adam is a professor at Berkeley, very interested in the future of education and how to teach entrepreneurship, and very willing to share his points of view.  Alex runs a catering service and is an amazing chef: he cooked us an incredible 3 course dinner one night and we enjoyed our conversations with our hosts. The next day, they invited me to join a Bikram yoga class next door. I joined and loved it and decided to continue it in Berlin afterwards.

We continued booking airbnb places throughout the whole vacation. We stayed in a yurt in Carmel-by-the-sea, with a whirlpool and a fully equipped entertainment system. We stayed in a wonderful beach house near Santa Barbara with fig trees in the garden, a hot tub and an amazing host who prepared us Champagne with fresh orange juice from the garden every evening. And we stayed on top of a garage in Venice Beach overlooking the entertaining boardwalk and Pacific Ocean.

The people we met where all welcoming, interested in getting to know us, and sharing their knowledge with us. Some cooked for us, some served us fruits from their garden trees, left delicious-smelling coffee in front of our door in the morning; some gave us their beach chairs and umbrellas, and all of them shared their unique knowledge about the area. We had great conversations when we wanted to and could just go to our room when we wanted to be on our own.

The airbnb app did the work: their sms service informs you once your booking request is accepted or rejected, they provide an offline map feature that lets you find your destination without using expensive data roaming, and of course they have a great variety of places to choose from.

The most interesting thing for me was to see how I changed my behavior. I am a super tidy person at home and totally mess up hotel rooms within minutes. I never did that at an airbnb place, I tried to be respectful. I even made the bed before I left. It just made me feel more comfortable. And I was surprised at how much I enjoyed that. I also loved the immediate feedback our hosts were able to post on my airbnb wall, like this one: “Inga is a great guest, we loved hosting her”. It just made me feel good. No hotel had ever done that for me.

The interesting thing about peer-to-peer accommodation services is that they’re totally reciprocal. As a guest or client, you also get a recommendation to help others see that it’s worth hosting you.

It might not be a nice experience if you don’t get along with your host. But it’s great if you do and people write positive and warm words about you on your wall. It makes you feel a part of a community, whether that’s what you were expecting or not: i. It’s a re-invention of social controls, and it makes you behave better.

I observed the same pattern when using myTaxi in Berlin, a taxi app that connects you directly with a taxi driver near you. I once had a driver who didn’t want to use the meter; I gave him a bad rating and text feedback on his profile. This was only one bad experience out of maybe 20 positive ones. I even had two drivers who I liked so much that I marked them as my favorites and I book them preferably when they are around. I am a typical Berliner: I do not have a car and use taxis all the time. Now, I see a way for taxi drivers who give great service to do better those who behave badly.

For Fjord as a service design consultancy, it’s an interesting insight into how we can design mutual trust, support business goals and make people feel comfortable and good about the value they get for their money.

Inga Bergen

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