In March this year, teen celebrity Justin Bieber’s hotel room was broken into by a pair of over-enthusiastic female fans, who were able to take photos of his personal belongings before being ejected by security personnel. Of course, if Justin Bieber can’t keep teen girls out of his five-star hotel room, what sort of privacy could I hope for in my musty, modestly priced budget hotel? After all, the location of hotels are permanent, as are all the exits, and staff turnover is high from off to peak season. When a pair of teen girls wanted to know what Justin Bieber has in his suitcase, all it took was misdirected ingenuity and a pair of housekeeping uniforms, all easily obtained.
As recently as two years ago, there was very little anyone could do about their personal safety short of splurging on a top hotel. You had to trust that your chosen hotel would take care of your welfare in a foreign land, possibly speaking a foreign language, where even the phone wouldn’t work unless you asked permission from the operator.
Fortunately, where there’s a will, there’s a consumer-internet tech startup. Companies like 9flats and airbnb are now places where anyone can find affordable private accommodation in a foreign city, secure in the knowledge that your host is a responsive, friendly local who is able and willing to help you, sometimes for the positive guest review, often simply because they’re great people.
I’d be lying if I didn’t say that this model carries its own risks. However, unlike in hotels, these risks can be mitigated effectively. There are two types of major risks.
Sometimes guests will be presented with a room or apartment that wasn’t what they expected from photos. Sophisticated scam artists can list rooms and request upfront payment to a foreign bank account, and vanish on payment. At 9flats, we vigorously vet every single listing that goes live on our system for authenticity, and hold guest payments in escrow until the guest arrives at the apartment and finds it in order. Guest reviews ensure that hosts are properly credited for a memorable experience. This is half of a positive feedback loop. The more listings we vet, the more people will book accommodation and give reviews, which in turn allows us to check even more listings.
The second risk is to hosts. I’ve frequently heard hosts expressing their fear that inconsiderate or careless guests will damage their property. I’m proud to say that this has never been a problem for us. We recognized the risk to our hosts , and keeping their best interests i mind, we introduced a protection program for hosts, and are the world’s first company in this industry to do so. For a small fee, hosts can protect themselves against €2,500 of damage. We also organize host gatherings regularly, so our community shares knowledge, and grows itself through the positive experiences shared. This is Christine, one of our hosts, and the latest host to do an interview with us.
This is the second half of the positive feedback loop I described. In this way, the host and guest community grows in tandem, leading to a balanced ecosystem.
So when you travel, don’t stay in the metaphorical equivalent of a glass room, exposed to unknown risks and without a person to turn to. Try staying with a local, be safe, and make a friend in the process.
PS. If you’d like to host visitors in your own home or spare room, write to me at weileen.ng [at] 9flats [dot] com. I’ll attend to you personally.
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