ABC Radio 702 Sydney’s Nightlife program interviewed me on Monday January 14th about all things Airbnb. We covered both hosting and travelling using Airbnb as well as the types of accommodation available and some general questions that non Airbnb people generally ask.
You can listen along here.
If you are an Airbnb host or traveller that would like to be interviewed by Probnb then let send me an email as we plan to add host and traveller interviews to the site this year.
Here is a transcript of the interview……
Jennifer: Do you think you could you relax on holiday knowing somebody else was sleeping in your bed? The idea of renting a holiday house isn’t new, but have you ever considered your own home as somewhere someone else might want to stay? AIRBNB is an online service that connects people that have spaces to rent, whether it’s an apartment or a caravan even, with people who want somewhere to stay. So, rather than leaving your house empty for the fortnight you’re away on annual leave, you could be paying for your own holiday with the money you make from renting your place out. How does it work? Well, Ross McDowall is an AIRBNB host. He regularly rents out his room in his Sydney home to holiday-makers, and he uses the service itself. Ross, thanks for coming in.
Jennifer: So, tell us, how does this work exactly, the AIRBNB model?
Ross: Okay, AIRBNB is essentially just a website where hosts and travelers can find each other. For us, we have a two-bedroom apartment here in Sydney, and we have travelers from all around the world come and stay in our spare bedroom. They have their own bathroom and use of the swimming pool and the sauna that we have, and they can sit on our balconies and have breakfast, etc.
Ross: So, it’s basically just…
Jennifer: Kind of like, more like a B&B.
Ross: Pretty much. Yeah. In a sort of way, yes. I mean, the… AIRBNB just facilitates getting the two people together, and they make it really easy with the platform that they’ve created.
Jennifer: Mm, okay. So, I go to the website and I find…
Ross: And you would look for Sydney, type in Sydney.
Jennifer: And I would put in the price range that I’m interested in.
Ross: Yeah, you can.
Jennifer: And then I get some options.
Ross: That’s right. So, there’s two different, basically two different types of accommodations. There’s whole apartments, which is fairly self-explanatory, and there’s also private rooms. So, a private room is staying with someone whilst they are in the apartment. That’s what we do.
Jennifer: Yeah. How long do people tend to stay with you?
Ross: Generally, the average is about three to four nights. That seems to be the average for tourists coming to Sydney. We… You can put a cap on it, so we’ve actually capped ours at seven nights because having someone for seven nights gets a little, you know, it gets more difficult…
Ross: … when they’re there for seven nights. It really depends on why they’re in Sydney, as well. If they’re working or if they’re just traveling, you know, will they be out a lot. So…
Jennifer: So, how much do you charge a night?
Ross: So, for our… We charge $89 for one person, and it’s $103 for two people.
Jennifer: Right, which is significantly cheaper than a hotel.
Ross: That’s right. I mean, the closest hotel to us, just down the road, is Surry Hills. A comparable room would be over $150.
Jennifer: Mm. Do you have much interaction with the people who stay with you?
Ross: Yes, quite a lot, yeah. When they’re staying with us, I mean, they’re generally sort of part of the family. We’ve got a dog, so it’s… They’re basically part of the family. We give them a bit of a tour of our apartment, show them around, explain how to get around Sydney. We’ve got a whole bunch of brochures in their room, maps, that sort of stuff – all sort of things that you would – and guide books.
Jennifer: Yeah, that they would get in a hotel room.
Ross: Yeah. Well, some things they wouldn’t even get in a hotel room, like we have The Good Food Guide and that sort of thing as well for them.
Jennifer: Oh, insider tips.
Jennifer: Yeah. So, I can imagine if it’s a guest you get on well with, that that’s fine. What if it’s somebody that you don’t get on with?
Ross: Well, fortunately, we haven’t had anyone that we haven’t got along with. Basically, there’s a few things that you should do upfront, and that’ really communicate a lot with the traveler to find out a little bit why they’re coming, and generally we can tell after… We’ve been doing it for over eighteen months and we can generally tell now who we like, and if we get this sort of feeling from them before they arrive that they’re not going to be suitable, then we can decline them as well, so…
Ross: That’s one of the good things is you don’t have to accept the reservations that come. You decide as the host.
Jennifer: What protections are there through the AIRBNB website? What if somebody comes and they accidentally set the room on fire?
Jennifer: What protections are there for you?
Ross: Well, AIRBNB provide a million dollar guarantee for all hosts, so they’re insurance will cover us for, to some extent for damage. You can also set a security deposit that the guest pays up front, which we do. It’s only a modest for $300, but it’s just in case something goes missing, which hasn’t happened. But they get that money back as soon as they check out. As well, we also… I’ve also got my own insurance as well.
Jennifer: Right, just…
Ross: Just in case.
Jennifer: Yeah, yeah, which is smart. We’re speaking with Ross McDowall who is an AIRBNB host. Can you give us some figures on how many places in the country are renting their places out like this?
Ross: I don’t know for Australia. I know for Sydney, it’s well in the thousands. It’s definitely over four thousand now in Sydney, which seems like a lot. I think when we started, there was less than four hundred, so it’s grown very, very quickly.
Jennifer: Yeah. Now you’ve not just hosted people, you’ve actually gone to other countries and stayed in other people’s places.
Ross: Yes, that’s right.
Jennifer: Tell us about one of those experiences.
Ross: We traveled through Italy in September last year, and apart from staying with some friends who, that organized that prior, we stayed in AIRBNB’s all over the way around Italy. We had a great time. Mostly we stayed in whole apartments rather renting private rooms, mainly because there’s just, in Italy, it is actually really cheap to do. In Bologna, we stayed for, I think it was $70 a night, and we had a huge one-bedroom apartment in the center of Bologna. We had a fantastic time – really, really fantastic.
Jennifer: Did you have any duds? I mean, you sort of take it that the apartment that you want is in the area that you want. What if you accidentally book something that’s not quite in the area that you wanted?
Ross: Yeah. On the website, they have a lot of ways that you can make sure that you’re staying where you want to stay. They show it all on a big Google map so you can see exactly where you’re staying. As long as you do your research up front, usually you won’t be disappointed. One of the things you look for as a traveler is that your host has lots of photos of the apartment so there won’t be any surprises when you get there.
Jennifer: And, so, these people, do they leave the house as they would have lived in it? Like, are there books in there and all their documents and papers? Is it literally just like going into somebody else’s place for a week?
Ross: Pretty much, yeah. Just like if you were coming, you’re a friend of mine and you were staying through a couple of nights. That’s basically exactly what happens.
Jennifer: Yeah. The obvious reason why people would do it is price. Is that the main reason do you think people are doing it?
Ross: Yeah. I think it opens a, really another avenue for people that have budget issues that would like to travel. It gives them another place to stay, rather than staying in hotels. We’ve had such a variety of people. We’ve had CEO’s, and we’ve had opera singers and…
Jennifer: I wouldn’t think they would need to be, you know, maybe they need to be saving some money.
Ross: Yeah. Well, he just didn’t like staying in soulless five-star hotels. He actually liked having, coming back at night and having someone to talk to. That was nice. He was a great… He didn’t stay with us but two days. He was working in Sydney. But, we’ve had rocket, NASA Space Shuttle engineers, and we’ve had pop singers, dentists, doctors, academics. It’s an incredible variety of people that you meet.
Jennifer: Yes. It’s not just, you know, you helping to pay off your mortgage. It’s meeting all these interesting people.
Ross: Yeah, exactly. When we… We’ve formed some good friendships with some people around the world when they’ve stayed with us.
Jennifer: One thing I’d be nervous about if I was heading to a city and renting an apartment, about rip-offs. What if the place isn’t as I thought it would be, or if, had there been any instances when the apartment didn’t actually exist?
Ross: Yeah, I think back in the early days of AIRBNB that certainly happened. I think they’ve tightened their rules up a lot. And as a traveler, they’ve got a really good support team that if you’ve got any issues, if you check in and the place is trashed, or it’s horrible and you don’t like it, you can always contact them by phone or email. They’re very good and very responsive, and they’ll find you a different place to stay. Either that, or they’ll refund your money.
Ross: Their support is rather good. I’ve only had to deal with them once or twice.
Jennifer: So they take it kind of, like I presume of…
Ross: Yes, that’s right.
Jennifer: … the money that you charge. But everything else is done by the person wanting to stay with you and you.
Ross: No. Well, actually all of the payments are handled by AIRBNB, so it really takes us out of the picture in terms of the guest having to hand us cash when they arrive. The guest pays AIRBNB. AIRBNB pays us after, twenty-four hours after they’ve checked in.
Jennifer: Mm. Right.
Ross: Okay? So, we don’t get the money until they’re happy that they’ve arrived in a good place.
Jennifer: Yeah, yeah. Is anyone staying with you at the moment?
Ross: Yes. Someone is checking in, I think as we speak…
Jennifer: Oh, okay.
Ross: … with my wife.
Jennifer: Let her sort it out. Yeah.
Ross: She’s, we’re well-practiced.
Ross: We really got into it because we were looking to rent out our room, and we were thinking about having a flat mate, but that really didn’t suit us. So, this gave us a fantastic alternative and, in fact, you know the, sometimes the money you can make doing this is much better than having a flat mate. We’ve got the sort of convenience of having a flat mate, and then not having one as well.
Jennifer: Yes. Not those on-going things. I think it’s really interesting, and it’s sort of showing how technology’s facilitating some new ways of working things out. Thanks so much for coming in and telling us about it.
Ross: You’re welcome.
Jennifer: That’s Ross McDowall, who is an AIRBNB host. You’re on the Night Life.