In 2007, Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia welcomed three guests to their home in San Francisco, California. It was during this hosting experiment that the Airbnb concept was conceived. Today, six million Airbnb properties have served as temporary homes to more than one billion guests around the globe.
Over the past ten years or so, I have spent numerous nights in Airbnb homes across East Africa. Between 2017 and 2019, I used to promote the platform as an affiliate marketer. Through the company’s now defunct affiliate marketing program, I would earn travel credits and use them to pay for accommodation whenever I traveled.
Airbnb makes it easier to integrate into the local community while on a tour. In addition, the company enables tourists to enjoy home-cooked meals. It offers authentic home away from home experiences.
When I visited Mombasa in 2012, I got along with my host very well. A decade down the line, we are still in touch. Our host - guest encounter was the foundation on which a lasting online friendship was built. Through Airbnb, tourists meet wonderful people, make new friends and create useful connections.
While visiting the Northern Province of Rwanda last year, I found a peaceful working environment for nomads in an artistically designed house booked through Airbnb. I also had an opportunity to read books and learn more about biodiversity in the area during the same sojourn.
Things are not always rosy though. There is a dark side of Airbnb. In 2017, I booked an Airbnb apartment before traveling to Kampala, Uganda. Upon arrival, my host’s number was not on air. I neither had data nor any offline navigation application. After finding the location of the apartment the hard way, the caretaker had no idea how Airbnb works. This happened when the host was harvesting timber in the unreachable South Sudanese jungle.
When issues arise between the host and the guest, the company steps in to mediate. However, that can only happen when both the host and the guest are reachable. Even then, the company’s inability to enforce rules and regulations is a loophole exploited by crooks and scammers quite often. I had to effect a second payment in cash and file a complaint that was never addressed. In other words, I was double-charged.
Similar incidents, in the loosely controlled marketplace, are common. Cases of theft, rape and murder have also been reported. Airbnb’s toothless approach to safety is its most threatening legal liability.