Dreaming of hotels in the age of Airbnb
Airbnb has revolutionized travel—but have we lost our flair for old-world glamour?
Words— Calum Marsh
Since its inception, popular short-term housing rental app Airbnb has transformed the way we travel. The app—on which anybody can freely offer up their home to travellers on a nightly basis, or search from among more than six million listings across nearly 200 countries for a place to stay—has liberated would-be travellers from the constraints of the hospitality business, making it easier than ever to see the world off the beaten path.
Thanks to Airbnb, it’s now possible to do vacations more like a local. I’ve stayed in sardine-tin sized apartments above the canals of Venice, blown-out Soviet-era housing blocks in Budapest, and cozy digs on out-of-the-way streets in Mexico City, experiencing a side of these places I never would have glimpsed if I’d been confined to the classic tourist traps. What’s more, these places were a fraction of the price of lodgings offered by global hotel chains—savings I gladly funnelled back into longer and more indulgent vacations.
Access to a kitchen means saving money making meals at this home away from home. Washers and dryers on-site mean doing laundry mid-trip, a major boon to long-term trips. Travel with Airbnb just tends to feel less like tourism—and that’s a game-changing way to see the world.
These advantages are so appealing that for many people Airbnb has become the default way to book a holiday abroad. But as we find ourselves renting houses or apartments from other people, rejecting the system that’s been in favour literally for centuries, we may be giving something up that we haven’t even realized. In other words, if the age of Airbnb has made us abandon hotels, what have we left behind?
Of course, there’s a certain glamour in hotel living that can’t be replicated. That’s why names like the Plaza, the Ritz and the Beverly Hills are so legendary, and why so many great artists, writers and movie stars have been associated with the hotels they loved. An Airbnb is economical. But only a hotel has romance.
Step into a luxury hotel anywhere in the world these days and it’s not hard to see what’s missing about more humble rentals. The homes available on the app are often charming and even beautiful, to be sure—but they’re hardly world-class paragons of architecture and interior design.
The world’s great hotels are repositories of history. Within their walls you can feel the incredible things that have transpired in the past—all the luminaries who have walked the hallways, all the dignitaries who have dined in the bars or restaurants, all the celebrities who have graced the rooms. When you stay in a hotel that has been around for a hundred years, you’re getting more than just a place to sleep. More than mere shelter, these hotels are institutions.
There’s something to be said for a hotel’s amenities. It’s nice enough to have the delights of room service only a phone call away, not to mention making use of the services of a concierge or valet. But when you’ve gotten used to the hands-off attitude of Airbnb travel—where, as at home, you have to clean up after yourself, and there’s frequently some light housework to be attended to—it’s a relief in the middle of a vacation to be looked after by a hotel’s diligent staff.
It’s not that you need to be pampered, but when you’re trying to make the most of a holiday, returning to your room at night to find the bed made and fresh towels in the bathroom is a serious relief. There’s travel, and then there’s travel with a bit of style. Hotels make the latter so much easier.
Clearly, Airbnb has changed the face of travel for the better, and now that booking an inexpensive apartment in Dublin or Doncaster or Dubai can be done from your laptop with only a few minutes of research, we are never going back to the old way of doing things. And yet while Airbnb has undeniable advantages, hotels are still emblematic of a certain kind of old-fashioned travel, and they retain some of the glamour and romance of a style of holidaymaking we’ve largely left behind. On the whole, the revolution makes sense. But at times it makes you yearn for the things we might have lost.