AirBnB in the UK: Trend or Necessity for BnB Owners?

Logo of Airbnb

Airbnb’s logo


 

Originally a relatively small website created to connect hosts and travellers, Airbnb expanded at an astronomical pace over the past few years. Today, the site offers its services to more than three million people per year around the globe. Some consider the growth a result of the injection of more than $120 million in venture capital a few years ago. Others consider it a product of word of mouth advertising among satisfied users. Either way, the spike in popularity means property owners have added an abundance of new listings, which now total more than 300,000 options in 192 countries. Despite recent  reporting of scandals (discussed below), Airbnb opens a world of opportunity for inn and Bed and Breakfast owners who want more exposure and clients.

A shining example of a new movement termed the “sharing economy,” AirBnb provides a direct link between the guest and the host without the need to go through an intermediary. Of course, the site takes a small commission on each transaction, a fee added in to the booking price. Airbnb co-founder Joe Gebbia spoke as a headliner of this year’s LeWeb conference in London, which focused on the sharing economy as its theme. In his own words, “the story of Airbnb is really the underdog story.” It all started when he and his flatmates decided to rent out airbeds in their living room (hence the origin of the name) to business travellers who had come to San Francisco to attend conferences. From its humble beginnings, Gebbia says he “wanted to create an experience for our guests: more than just a place to sleep. We wanted to cook breakfast in the morning, we wanted to provide a subway map for our guests, pick them up from the airport…”

In effect, the roommates formed an improvised Bed and Breakfast in their own apartment. Surprisingly, Gebbia and his other co-founder Brian Chesky managed to rake in $1,000 rather quickly. A third co-founder, Nathan Blecharczyk, joined the team and helped create the first proper website for the service, originally known as Airbedandbreakfast. To gain better name recognition, the group chose to shorten their name to Airbnb in 2009.

Worth a look: This Airbnb infographic “10 Million Guest Nights Booked” by Kelli Anderson

Once on the road to success, it was only a matter of time until Airbnb ascended the ranks of travel websites. Gebbia revealed some of the keys to his business advancing in this difficult economy: hire staff in the other countries, expand the community of hosts and plan meetups for users. For example, the site announced one such occasion in London the day before the LeWeb conference. Gebbia explained, “Entrepreneurship is about connecting two dots in a new and different way… My advice for aspiring entrepreneurs out there is to marry the problem. Find a problem that you’re so close to that you can empathise with it in a way that others can’t… You can see it so closely, that it gives you that ability to connect the two dots together” (1).

According to Dennis Jones, the CEO of the mobile phone and card transaction specialist Judo Payments, one cannot deny the role of mobile phones in people’s daily lives today. The shift from shopping in retail stores to internet-based vendors, and also from using computers to mobile phones and tablets, also coincides with a revolution in the hospitality industry. As far as parallels, Jones identifies companies like Airbnb, “driven by the sharing economy… are cutting into hotels, car sharing services, even plane sharing services” (2).

Now, a word of warning. Some bad always seems to accompany the good, right? With every decision comes the consequences. While registering for the site of course increases visibility, this practice can also incite the wrath of legal experts, especially in regions where one must license or register rooms for rent. Perhaps the most well-known episode of this sort of drama occurred this spring, when a prosecutor in the Big Apple brought apartment owner Nigel Warren before a judge for conducting unlicensed short-term room rentals. To defend their user (and in another sense, the site’s platform as a whole), Airbnb provided its own lawyers to help Warren out. Unfortunately, they lost the case, and the judge ordered the defendant to pay some $2,400 (£1,600) in fines (3).

Gebbia retorts to critiques about the site’s ambiguous legal status, “When the car was introduced in 1908, people could experience a brand new way to travel that was more efficient than a horse and buggy. Can you believe that cities tried to outlaw cars in the United States? Can you imagine driving a car for a year then having to go back to a horse and buggy? The policy-makers adjusted to meet the demands of the people. We believe it’s time for our invention, and it appears the world agrees” (1).

Founders of Airbnb

Airbnb’s founders

After the news broke of Warren’s plight, similar efforts arose in Amsterdam and Quebec to limit Airbnb’s ability to conduct business. Montreal hotel industry officials estimate that sites like Airbnb cause traditional accommodations to lose a massive amount of revenue through the diversion of reservations to property owners. Daniel Weinstock, Professor of Ethics at McGill University, brings up the memory of Napster, one of the earliest sites to pioneer sharing music online. Although authorities shut down Napster a decade ago, ultimately they made their efforts in vain, as music downloads (legal and otherwise) have never been more popular (4).

To respond to concerns about whether Airbnb’s growth necessarily means bad news for the traditional hotel industry, Gebbia stuck by the potential of his website for all sorts of rental locations, from small to large format. He continued with an illustration of this concept: “If you have a pie-chart of all the available combinations in a city, it’s not like we’re taking a slice out of the pie. We’re taking the pie and making it bigger” (1). Debatable? Perhaps, but as the age-old phrase says, “if you can’t beat them, join them!”

In fact, when one thinks about it, professional guesthouses and Bed and Breakfasts on AirBnb can take advantage of the best of both worlds. They can access the site’s click traffic without having to worry about the potential for legal concerns because they’ve already registered their properties. Plus, with an established reputation, these owners will rise above the rest when it comes to quality ratings on the site. At the very least, from the perspective of the traveller,  professional offerings usually guarantee privacy and cleanliness. Anyone who backpacked around Europe as a youth and stayed in hostels knows that these details count among the most important aspects of a comfortable night’s sleep, something shared rentals popular on Airbnb can’t always offer.

Finally, the company made great strides in its attempts to reassure users on both sides of the transactions. For example, they created a 24-hour crisis management hotline, added section of safety tips to the website, and “a link to contact the CEO.” In August, 2011, Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky wrote in a blog post that the site’s “trust and safety center has ‘tips’ for choosing guests and putting up the right postings.” The company also claims a $1 million (£600,000) “host guarantee,” a form of insurance to cover property damage and theft.

Airbnb homepage

The homepage of Airbnb’s website

So, should you list your property on Airbnb or not? Peter Tompkins, who started subletting his London flat one year ago, felt that overall it has proven a positive experience. The worst case scenario in his words happens when “a book goes missing or some cutlery goes out on a picnic and doesn’t return.” On the flip side, he states, “I have not yet had a visitor I actually disliked. And they are gone after a few days – unlike a flat sharer” (5). After a few simple clicks of the mouse, your property can join the online rental frenzy that has become Airbnb. With some luck and internet-savvy skills, soon the online traffic will translate into foot traffic for your business.

Whether you decide to list your guesthouses or bed and breakfasts on Airbnb or otherwise, don’t forget to check out Caractère’s lines of disposable towels, linens, bathrobes, spa wear and much, much more on our site specialized to cater to customers in the UK, Disposable Linen!

1. Dredge, Stuart. “Airbnb co-founder: ‘We believe it’s time for our invention, and it appears the world agrees.'” The Guardian, June 5, 2013. http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/appsblog/2013/jun/05/airbnb-leweb-london-joe-gebbia

2. Zainzinger, Vanessa. “Three thought-leaders on thinking big with mobile.” RealBusiness, May 28, 2013. http://realbusiness.co.uk/article/20058-three-thought-leaders-on-thinking-big-with-mobile

3. Stevenson, David. “City Insider: Growth – it’s back and it’s online.” Travel Weekly, June 06, 2013. http://www.travelweekly.co.uk/Articles/2013/06/06/44288/city+insider+growth+-+its+back+and+its+online.html

4. “Airbnb : une concurrence déloyale?” Radio Canada, June 4, 2013. http://www.radio-canada.ca/emissions/medium_large/2012-2013/chronique.asp?idChronique=296110

5. Heyden, Tom. “Airbnb battles: Would you stay with strangers?” BBC News Magazine, February 6, 2013. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-21339891

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Vakker og Fredelig, Fjorder i Norge: Hiking Norway’s Fjords in Comfort and Style

from Caractère Paris

A Cruiseship in Molde, Romsdal

The coasts of the Scandinavian countries, and those of Norway in particular, are world renown for their spectacular fjords and incomparable views. More often than not, visitors opt to experience their magnificence from below, either on coastline cruise boats or in small canoes. However, as experienced hiker Bill Russell points out, taking “hikes into the surrounding mountains… really provides the visitor the fullest opportunity to experience the beauty and culture of the area in a special way not available by boats alone… it’s a glorious experience viewing the fjords from above.” In fact, he goes as far as to say, “Fjord hiking is the experience of a lifetime.” With over 15,000 miles of coastline and thousands of fjords, fortunately one could never run out of new sites to explore.

from Caractère Paris

Meloyfjord Sunset from Amnes

Sounds intriguing, no? If unfamiliar, you might be wondering what a fjord is exactly and about the origin of their funny name. The word “fjord” comes from Indo-European origins, with fara meaning travelling or ferrying. The Old Norse adaptation of this verb, fjǫrðr (or fjord) indicates a body of water that resembles a lake, often used for cruise and ferry ship transit. In geological terms, the name defines a lengthy, thin inlet surrounded by cliffs of steep hills or mountains. Fjords were created thanks to thousands of years of glacial melting since the last ice age. In fact, as the glaciers melted, through the abrasive pressure exerted by their weight on the land below the ice, the glaciers carved out deep tunnels. After they melted, these tunnels eventually became submerged by the sea. At the same time, this intense pressure pushed the surrounding land upward, creating the picturesque views that enthuse many a traveller to visit Norway today.

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Bergen from the Fløibanen Funicular

Often, hikers begin their voyages in Bergen, considered by many one of the world’s most beautiful cities and the “gateway to the fjord country.” Rich in an elegant mix of classic Norwegian style and the new minimalist Scan school of architecture, with plenty of cultural institutions, Norway’s second largest city has enough to offer on its own to be worth a visit. However, it’s the city’s proximity to the fjords that interests most tourists.

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Sognefjord, Norway, just outside of Bergen

Given the mountainous terrain, one can expect to travel an average of five to eight miles (11-18 km) per day. Waterfalls, rolling streams and quaint cabins line the journey. From Bergen, one can reach Sognefjord in a day, the world’s third longest fjord (the longest in Norway) at 203 km (136 mi) and the second deepest (again, the record holder for Norway) at 1,308 m (4,291 ft). The surrounding  mountains rise another 1,000 metres (3,281 miles), providing unrivalled views of the coast from every perspective. However, don’t let what sounds like a steep incline intimidate you — there are hiking paths available for every fitness level, from the professional to the amateur.

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Geirangerfjord, Norway

Further north along the coast, the Atlantic road continues along some of the country’s most beautiful and lesser known fjords. The Troll’s Road, Trollstigen, was a feat of modern engineering when constructed. It cuts directly into the Andalsnes mountain with hairpin turns, surrounded by waterfalls that have been described as “simply breathtaking.” Trollstigen leads to Geiranger, where many view the remarkable Geirangfjord from boat. Experienced travellers boast that the best vistas are from the trails north of Hellyslt. While in the area, the neighbouring Strynevatnet Lake contains gorgeous waters of a unique turquoise colour that cannot be found elsewhere. Also, the peaceful rural town of Hjelle serves as a perfect point to stop and rest.

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Sørfjord and Lofthus in Hardanger

One cannot go wrong by continuing along the Panorama Road, which wraps around the Gamle Strynefellsvegen fjord a third of a mile above sea level with stunningly picturesque views. Not to miss: the Kjenndal, Loen, Olden and Briksdal Glaciers. The nearby Saebo and Hjorundfjord sport some of the most remarkable views in all of Norway. With an extremely steep incline (nearly vertical), one is left with the feeling of floating on top of the world. The Highway 60 that passes by Geirangerfjord and Sunnylvsfjord sports what has the reputation of “one of the best vista spots in Norway.” Vinnufossen, in the neighbouring region of Sunndalsora, is the sixth tallest waterfall in the world. The gorgeous, protected Amotan Park will help visitors reconnect with nature, in addition to offering more scenic valleys with impressive waterfalls and a highly recommended hiking trail, the Trodalen.

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Stigen Farm, Aurlandsfjord

If you have yet to book the next flight to Oslo, listen to a short excerpt of one hiker’s experience of the fjords: “We hike past mountain farms, similar to the one situated 600 meters above Simadalsfjorden and only reachable by foot until the beginning of the 1970’s. We glimpse these old farm houses, where you can see how your ancestors used to live, and where it is still possible to meet people who protect the local song heritage by singing the old tunes, and by playing the Hardangerfiddle.

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Mountain pasture on the Geiranger Fjord

“As we hike along the heritage trails in Ulvik, in the hills and mountains that surround the village, you get to know more about life in the area in the days gone by. The trails beckon and the high pastures where flocks of sheep graze, clear streams, blue lakes, and striking mountains provide hikers with plenty of off-the-beaten track adventures.”

Sounds delightful! At Caractère, we offer a variety of items to make your fjord hiking experience easier and more comfortable. Our products include supplies designed for rural guest houses and camp sites, which range from disposable sheets and blankets to towels and baby hygiene products. For those who plan to take advantage of Scandinavia’s world renown saunas and spas, we also provide massage wear, slippers, sandals, bathrobes and towels. Comfortable, recyclable and easy to use, you cannot go wrong with disposable supplies from Caractère. Best of all, we ship anywhere in Europe, including the UK and Norway. If you choose to go, have a wonderful trip and please write to us about your travels.
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Finally, some links to help you plan. For hiking route ideas and itineraries, see the hiking and itinerary pages of Norway Fjords, Fjords.com, REI, FjordNorway, Russell Tours and Web Walking. For guided hiking tours, visit The Norwegian Trekking Association’s official website. For more fantastic pictures of fjords, see The Norway Fjords and Fjords.com.

Finally, a short video about hiking in the fjords from Visit Kristiansund: