I booked my first Airbnb in 2011 and haven’t stopped using the app since then. I’ve stayed in caves, a guesthouse in the Hollywood Hills, and dozens of other unique properties. Hotels, shmotels- how boring! If you’ve spoken to me, I’ve been the fiercest advocate of unique experiences and the bore of staying in hotels long before Airbnb was adopted by hipsters and baby boomers alike.
But recently, I’ve changed my mind. Traveling frequently for work, I’ve realized that the kinds of things I value for business travel are almost the complete opposite of what I value in leisure travel. Adventure, uniqueness, and an experience are paramount for leisure travel. Comfort, flexibility, and predictability matter for business. As someone who exclusively used Airbnb for almost 5 years, here are the kinds of experiences I’ve had during business trips just to NYC-
1) The Lower East Side studio with razor thin walls that had me hearing all about NYU bar gossip at 2 am before a big day of presentations.
2) The Upper West Side artist haven where the bed was lofted above the kitchen with no railing. One turn while sleeping could lead to death by falling into the kitchen. In this same hipster loft, I learned my noise cancelling headphones for flights could double as noise cancelling headphones to drown out the sound of glass getting crushed at 6 am every morning by garbage trucks.
3) The SoHo four flight walkup that cancelled my reservation 12 hours before I arrived.
4) The Chelsea studio apartment where I had to pretend to be a cousin of the host if a neighbor asked why I was there.
I could keep going. Then there are the hours of perusing listings through the Airbnb app and talking to potential hosts. When you’re doing it for leisure, it’s fun to dream about your next location. When you’re trying to find a decent place to stay while you’re working, it’s a waste of time and a source of anxiety.
Weeks ahead of my trips I would have so much anxiety trying to find the perfect place to stay. It was almost the same as Aziz Ansari’s mockery of trying to find the perfect taco on Yelp, only to spend so much time Yelping that the perfect taco place is closed by the time you get there.
Now enough kvetching. I love Airbnb, but I found an app that gives me most of what Airbnb doesn’t — and more. It’s called HotelTonight and it does just that- it’s a way for hotels to sell remnant inventory (rooms that they haven’t booked) at a discount. You can peruse different listings, and the better deals come usually the day of your booking…if you can wait until the last minute.
It’s hard to imagine a consumer’s behavior changing so drastically! I went from hours of uncertainty on Airbnb, communicating with many potential hosts to picking a hotel on the app in a minute the day before my trip. The hotels I pick are still boutique, trendy, or urban depending on the locale so I get my unique experience. However, I no longer have to coordinate picking up keys, or worrying about a bad rating if my flight gets delayed. I can also make sure there are conveniences like a fitness center or train stop nearby.
I even used HotelTonight on a recent non-business road trip. It was incredibly freeing to be able to book a good hotel- usually at a hefty discount- at the last minute so we didn’t have to arrange our itinerary and stick to it if plans changed.
So! Moral of the story- the hotel industry is not dead. And not everyone wants a community hipster experience every single time they travel. I’ve loved my unique Airbnb experiences and connections- an entrepreneur in Rome renting an apartment to practice his English with tourists, a central Parisian flat with Andy Warhol-esque art and a Nespresso machine, and a Florentine apartment with a stunning rooftop patio overlooking the Duomo. I could go on and on. However, when I arrive in New York after this flight, I’ll open HotelTonight and Uber to my hotel where I don’t have to worry about being friendly or remembering the code to a lockbox.
Special thanks to my coworker Barry who suggested HotelTonight after I told him about my near death kitchen loft experience.