Many a revolutionary idea has been born out of Maslow’s hierarchy of need. In 2007, Joe Gebbia emailed his roommate, Brian Chesky with a quick scheme to make an easy buck. “I thought of a way to make a few bucks – turning our place into a “designers bed and breakfast”.
If you don’t know the story of Silicon Valley’s newest member of the unicorn club then you really need to pick up a copy of the FT more often. Airbnb made waves, 100ft, see it from the beach and start running grade waves.
I can’t really say I had any reservations about modern day sofa surfing, after all, the sharing economy is in full swing and the lights are on and burning brightly for the masses. Really it came down to a question of faith, would my ‘host’ be there on time, would they be personable and erudite.
Let’s go back a step in the process though. I was only going to be in Amsterdam for two nights and of course, faced the conundrum of travellers everywhere. Do I go in favour of a five-star hotel that allows me to make any manner of quaint but irksome requests of the staff, all the while knowing that I will be unlikely to spend any real time in the property other than in slumber mode? Those of you travelling on business on someone else’s blue-chip Dime know that you will always opt for the road more luxurious. After all, why wouldn’t you, you’re not covering the bill. However, when one merely needs a place to rest their weary head Airbnb is a solid choice.
I scanned through the listings with only a basic list of requirements, an Eames lounger, authentic Dutch aesthetic and close proximity to the canals. I immediately had three on my short list, a “historical canal side apartment” hosted by Jeroen, a “designer suite in Oude – Pijp, Amsterdam’s answer to Shoreditch and the “crane hotel faralda” an old crane in the trendy NDSM area.
The quirkiest of the list was absolutely the crane, it’s description included gems like “when the wind blows, the crane turns and the view changes”, which one can only hope was by architectural design and not a quirk of the retrofit. “Your suite is completely soundproof”, not that anyone would be able to help you at 35 meters without a pretty high-grade ladder anyway. What really clinched it for me was the ‘crane’ top hot tub. Although it later transpired that this was an additional €90. Not a large cost of course but for me, Airbnb has perks over and above a standard luxury hotel, one of them is that ‘it is what it is’. You pay a fee, you get a room or whole property. Unlike checking into a hotel, there is no cost for WiFi, to use the spa or get a drink at the bar. The last property I stayed at in Croatia, the lovely owner Marina even left me a fridge of cold orange juice and beer. In no way was she required to do anything of the sort but with every property comes a unique owner, it’s part of the program. That being said, your experience staying somewhere more westernised might well be a little more corporate, it’s all about the research and by god, it’s a lot of fun. Suffice to say though that at £570 the Faralda crane was more akin to a 5-star hotel stay and I was looking for something a little more minimalist. I know, me, basic, I said it I’m throwing myself so hard under the bus, I might win a stuffed toy.
I decided that to truly experience Amsterdam I should opt for a canal-side property as the stereotype tells me that all Dutch people ride bicycles and live next to Canals. The property looked like it had been designed by an intern at the Tate. High ceilings, Canal views, beautiful wooden floors and for £186 a night, a really great amount of space. I messaged Jeroen to introduce myself and give him a little background about my stay. My conveyed level of personal detail is certainly not compulsory though. Sadly however, it turned out that Jeroen had a booking the same day that I was planning on leaving and so didn’t think he “could make it cleaning wise”. I had to appreciate his attention to detail and want to keep his pre-booked guests happy. Of course I did also wonder why if he knew there would be this time crunch, why he would list the property as available the day before. You must of course remember that Jeroen did not study at the Ecole hoteliers de Lausanne and so cannot be held to the same standards as a hotel. Next time though, it’s top of my list and with hundreds of thousands of other options, the property shop continued.
With one property knocked out due to price and one unavailable, I messaged Marvin, the owner or at least keeper of the one bedroom apartment in Amsterdam’s ‘Latin Quarter’. Find the place, click the dates, book. It makes booking a hotel stay look like applying for North Korean Citizenship by comparison. My booking was then accepted and that was it. No fuss, no pomp and ceremony, just a booked apartment for a weekend arranged within one minute. I eagerly messaged Marvin to tell him I was looking forward to seeing the city and briefly outlined my plans. Two days later and still no word from Marvin. With little knowledge of Airbnb etiquette but a fairly good grasp of online conversational tone, I sent three emojis followed by a paragraph of text in bold and a dog GIF. Or at least I assume that is the norm no? In reality, a WhatsApp message seemed more appropriate to ensure that my communication was getting through. Having stayed at a wealth of properties now, I needn’t have been anxious, the booking request goes to the owner regardless and they have to push a ‘Yes’ button to confirm the booking. Everything you need is in the app already in reality.
Marvin did come back to me to confirm a check-in time however and answer any questions I had along with introducing me to a middleman, a perfectly friendly individual who made no lasting impression. As such, we shall call him ‘Lucas’.
I met Lucas outside the apartment and he was keen to offer suggestions on where we could go, eat and what to see, If I didn’t have a Dutch national in tow this would have been highly useful.
Stairs. In Amsterdam, the older the property, the more stairs, the Dutch are the tallest people in the world though so can easily clear a flight in two strides I expect. The property was up in the gods on the 3rd and 4th floors. Modern in style and clearly recently refurbished well, it had all the expectant creature comforts including a Sonos system, PS3 and internal hot tub. In some ways, it still felt a little too opulent considering we had little intention of spending much time there but at £140 a night, I was happy to have the luxury escape on hand for a pretty reasonable price. Arguably there was a time when renting a property lock stock and barrel would have meant applying for that North Korean Visa again and likely for a much longer minimum amount of days. To be able to arrange accommodation across a broad spectrum of cost at the drop of a hat, almost anywhere in the world seems to me like a revolution. I am all for the sharing economy, putting ownership of property back into peoples hands and helping them turn a profit from fixed assets. If I had space I would almost certainly be listing it on Airbnb but as I don’t, I will just have to settle for browsing the 3 million listings worldwide, aghast at some of the most beautiful properties. 200,000,000+ cannot be wrong.