Sunday, October 14, 2012

Airbnb: Where Hospitality Meets Social Media

Earlier this year, I was privileged enough to get an invite from a close friend to attend his wedding in Gijón, in the north of Spain. He’s a private kind of guy, so let’s just say he’s an Englishman and his bride to be is Spanish and leave it at that.

I’m not a rich man, so wisely I booked all of the different components of the trip in stages: first stage, beg my boss for a day off work during term time; second stage, book the flights; third stage, book the transfers from the airport in Santander to Gijón; finally, book the accommodation for me and Jeannie.

Other than the obvious disappointment that my tight budget meant I had to book a flight with Ryanair – an experience I won’t be repeating any time soon – most of the components were booked easily and at a reasonably cost, but I was struggling to find suitable accommodation.

Drinking in the atmosphere at a local sidrería.
Doing what I often do, I turned to the internet and to Google to see what I could find. Almost purely by accident I came across the website of Airbnb. 

According to their website, Airbnb was founded in 2008 and is based in San Fransisco, USA. Its concept is to match up people who need a room somewhere for a couple of nights, or however long, with people who have a room to spare. They currently claim to have over 200,000 listings worldwide, spread over 26,000 cities in 192 different countries.

So, frustrated with the lack of interesting, affordable, middle-of-the-road hotels on offer when using Trivago, I put what I wanted and when I wanted it into Airbnb and up came a few suitable options. All of them were in ideal locations close to both the main beach and the church of San Pedro, where my friend was to be married.

The process of booking on Airbnb is perhaps a little longer than using something like Trivago or Booking.com. Initially, you are advised to send a request to a number of different hosts, because, as most hosts are just normal people not hoteliers, availability can vary greatly.

After sending a request to few suitable hosts, we settled upon a flat owned by a lady called Leticia. Her flat being located the closest to the church and the beach – it also looked the nicest in the pictures.

Once booked, and prior to our arrival, we exchanged contact details (email and WhatsApp) and discussed arrival times and directions. As the timings were tight between our flight’s arrival time in Santander and the time it takes for the airport bus to get into town, the Alsa coach we book from Santander isn’t due into Gijón until 22.15. Luckily this isn’t a problem for our host. 

I am not sure if all hosts are as accommodating and organised as Leticia, but even when our bus arrived thirty minutes late, she delayed her going out for dinner just to make sure we were properly welcomed. 

Our room was easily double the size of your average hotel room, and was around half the price. It was furnished in a simple, minimalist fashion, but with lots of nice touches like a table in the bay window looking out over the street, a small sofa, and loads of helpful guides to the local area. In essence it was almost like a self-contained studio flat. 

It was perfect for our needs. We dumped our bags and within a few minutes we were already drinking in a nearby sidrería.

The whole process of finding, booking and checking-in was surprisingly simple. Our host was unobtrusive, and our stay in Gijón was comfortable, without breaking the bank.

When the opportunity arises in future, Airbnb may well be a first port of call rather than a last resort.

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