Although it landed two years ago, the popular accommodation website Airbnb is well on its way to colonising Colombia. Helping travellers find accommodation in more than 33,000 cities in nearly 200 countries around the globe, Airbnb has been a hit in Colombia, with 6200 hosts listed throughout the country – including more than 2000 in Bogotá.
Just about every town has an Airbnb host offering a room or a residence at prices lower than the local hotels.
The site allows travellers a more personal experience, with home owners offering either a room or their whole residence. Travellers can filter by location, amenities such as WiFi or a pool, and type of residence. And travellers as well as “hosts” can leave reviews for one another, which means you have a fair idea what to expect. For many travellers, the website’s main draw are their competitive prices.
Heather Savill from the UK has stayed at three Airbnb homes in Bogotá. She’s found Airbnb a cheaper and more personal way to travel. The 50-year-old maternity nurse says her experiences have been positive, bar one stay where she stayed in a home where a large dog barked all day from its bedroom prison – and left its mark in an unpleasant way. “When I went to use washing machine, I found dog-soiled garments in it.”
While you often can’t plan for a barking dog, Heather suggests travellers read reviews carefully, and do a little research on the area.
For Geoff Richter, Airbnb allows a glimpse into a way of life that hotels generally don’t afford you. The IT consultant says the chance to stay in more “unusual and unique” places is attractive. Geoff stayed in Airbnb homes all over the country, and other than “one or two cleanliness issues” his experience has been overwhelmingly positive.
His favourite was in Choachí, just over away from the capital. “It had character, it was well looked after with a nice garden with hummingbirds and butterflies all around. The host went out of her way to make us feel at home.”
Geoff’s advice to travelers is to contact the renter before you book. “You’ll get a feel for who the host is, and you can ask about the little things you’ll need, like towels or sheets.”
For apartment or home owners, the website offers a way to make a little extra cash by renting out a room or even a way to start a new business.
Ryan Mykita bought a finca in San Francisco, Cundinamarca, a year ago as an investment. Family and friends began to ask to rent the small house, known as Refugio Tutaza, and he decided to post it on Airbnb.
As well as its usefulness in networking with people all over the world, Ryan chose Airbnb to target foreign visitors, a way of sharing Colombia with outsiders. Ryan, 32, who is Colombian born but has lived in the US, believes Airbnb breaks down cultural barriers, allowing foreign visitors to discover places they wouldn’t otherwise. And on a practical level, Ryan says foreign visitors are generally “more trustworthy, better with the property and better organized.”
Refugio Tutaza has hosted students, a wedding party, families and even some scientists who came to study the unique flora and fauna surrounding the finca. The sustainability and environmental manager would like to use his skills to enhance the site further, developing a wetland and offering educational tours and seminars.
The study also showed that Airbnb users stayed longer in their destinations, spending more money.
A 2013 study by the research company HR&A found that Airbnb has made a positive impact on neighbourhoods, families and individuals, with hosts and travellers receiving a richer cultural experience. The study also showed that Airbnb users stayed longer in their destinations, spending more money.
However, not everyone’s happy about the runaway success of the company. In a number of cities throughout the world, the hotel industry is feeling the pinch as Airbnb undercuts the prices charged by hotels and B&Bs. In New York, where there are 25,000 hosts, not only is the hospitality industry outraged that it’s losing its business to non-tax paying hosts and New Yorkers are protesting that Airbnb is helping push already high rents up as landlords choose to rent their rooms to short-stay visitors instead of residents.
An Economist report last April predicted that at Airbnb’s current rate of growth, by next year the site will be cutting into 10 percent of hotel takings in centres where the company operates. That’s significant enough to send a small business under. Here in Colombia it will be interesting to see the impact that Airbnb will have as it continues to grow rapidly alongside the country’s burgeoning tourist industry.
Geoff’s feels Airbnb’s impact is yet to be felt in Colombia. “At the moment it will have a minimal impact because it’s only being used by tourists. But when Colombians begin to move away from their traditional way of travelling and start using it, that’s when we could see a huge impact.”