At the Pacific Tradewinds Hostel in San Francisco, owner Darren Overby has found an unlikely ally in his efforts to keep his hostel’s operating costs down: Airbnb.
Though the website is primarily associated with apartment rentals (and considered by many as a scourge to budget travel operators in general), Airbnb has become a refuge of sorts for hostel owners seeking to avoid the rising fees of websites like Hostelworld.com and Hostelbookers.com. After Hostelworld’s parent bought Hostelbookers last year, the company raised its booking commissions from 10% to 12% for hostels.
By comparison, Airbnb, which wasn’t originally designed for hostels, charges a universal 3% “host booking fee.” In addition to Overby, hostel operators in Killarney, Ireland, Cozumel, Mexico, Cancun, Mexico, San Francisco and Foz do Iguacu, Brazil tell Mashable they’re listing beds on Airbnb with success.
“The first reason for me to choose Airbnb is the 3% commission,” says John Moriarty, who owns the Dunloe View Hostel in Killarney, Ireland. “While the sales from Airbnb still remain low compared to other OTAs and direct bookings, I have seen a large increase between last year and this year.”
A number of the operators Mashable spoke with echoed complaints about Hostelworld and Hostelbookers’ 2% hike, saying the increase has made it difficult for them to control their operating costs in an industry with razor-thin margins.
“With hotels that charge close to $200 per night, extra dollars are easy to find, but when you’re a $20-per-night hostel that provides breakfast, towels, tourism services and check-in — which all cost the same whether you’re a hotel or hostel — [a commission hike] begins to bite into your business operations,” says Ben Julius, who manages online marketing for the Abraham Hostel in Jerusalem and runs Tourist Israel, Israel’s largest information site about independent tourism.
In addition to financial savings, Airbnb also offers hostels the ability to rate guests, and not just the other way around. Two-way reviews are a tremendous boon for hostels, allowing them to make sure they’re not welcoming problematic guests and jeopardizing their community, says Overby. He also runs the online hostel resource website Hostelmanagement.com and previously owned Hostels.com, which he started as a tourism content publisher in 1994 before selling the site to Hostelworld in 2003.
“Most hostels are tight-knit, and a bad apple can disrupt your community,” he says. “Mutual reviews keep everyone on their best behavior.”
At a recent conference for hostel professionals in Cancun, half of the 20 attendees responded to a query that they’d been using Airbnb with favorable results, Overby estimates.
“In the early days, people in the hostel industry spoke concern about Airbnb,” he says. “We’re now seeing hostels around the world who’re talking favorably about Airbnb and how it’s helping their business.”
Airbnb did not immediately respond to multiple requests for comment. Web Reservations International, the parent company of Hostelworld and Hostelbookers, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.