The Airbnb experience: The occasional wrinkle but a win-win for travellers and hosts

*Steve Makris is a technology expert who does a Tech Talk segment during Edmonton’s Sunday Morning News.

If you have wondered about using Airbnb for your next trip or maybe getting a little revenue from your unused in-law suite, you can feel better about it now.

This week, Airbnb added Canada to its Host Protection Liability Primary Insurance program, which provides up to $1 million USD in coverage for each rental. This protects the hosts and in some cases, their landlords, if a guest is injured on the premises or, for example, causes water damage to a neighbouring apartment.

Most people who travel today have heard of Airbnb. Many have used it and most of them turn into return customers. The popular online-based service connects travellers looking for affordable accommodation with householders willing to offer their spare room, rental apartment, condo, or entire home for a reasonable fee.

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Founded in 2008, Airbnb operates in 190 countries and has more than two million listings. The popular online service has squared off with unions, regulators and housing advocates but remains popular with users comfortable to rent living space to strangers as well as travellers willing to stay in someone’s home.

Airbnb is similar to the popular personal-cab Uber service. A simple search of a map on your computer, tablet or smart phone helps you find private accommodations near you or your travel destination.

Here’s how it works. There are two parties to an Airbnb transaction: the host with a place to rent and the traveller looking for bargain accommodation. Hosts sign up with Airbnb formally with information about their property and themselves. Airbnb sends a photographer to take property pictures. The pictures have a consistent professional look and this is Airbnb’s way of actually visiting the host site. Smart. Once traveller and host establish a connection and agreement, Airbnb collects the reservation payment and charges the host three per cent once a verified online payment is made. Revenue for the host; a bargain for the guest, and as a side benefit, it can be a pleasant and rewarding experience leading to insider information and even lasting friendships.

Airbnb Country Manager for Canada Aaron Zifkin – 33.000 Airbnb listings in Canada hosted 627,000 global and Canadian guests in the past year. Steve Makris

“Human hospitality has incredible power for making you feel like you belong someplace,” says Airbnb’s manager for Canada Aaron Zifkin. He said 935,000 Canadians stayed with Airbnb hosts worldwide while travelling in the past year.

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Sounds simple and yes, it works, using a user-simple online technology with fast, detailed search parameters.

“We are a company that didn’t exist seven years ago. Now we have a platform that houses over one million people a night,” says Zifkin.

I had heard about Airbnb from friends and relatives, so when I and four other Canadian tech reporters were invited to visit Airbnb San Francisco headquarters a few weeks ago, I gladly accepted.

There wouldn’t be the usual hotel stay for this tech trip. Instead, five Airbnb hosts were selected for our three-night stay.  Now I’m nervous. This was a few notches outside my comfort level, but I felt better when we heard from my host, Kepa Askenasy, as soon as we arrived, with a warm welcome and instructions for retrieving my room keys from one of several secure key boxes outside her premises.

My Airbnb San Francisco escape – a cross between you grandmothers and best friends pad. Steve Makris

This allowed me to show up, get my keys and check myself into my lovely San Francisco-themed room. Its large windows framed a picture-perfect well-groomed back yard, an oasis in a city of tightly packed housing. I did meet Kepa, an easy-going retired architect. She hosts several apartments in her large residence. My stay felt like a cross between visiting my grandmother’s and best friend’s home.

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My checkout was just as quiet, dropping my room keys in a mail slot after locking the main entrance. Like many Airbnb hosts, she was helpful throughout my stay but respected my privacy. She even provided a closet for my luggage after checkout.

My gracious Airbnb host Kepa Arkenasy in her back yard San Francisco oasis and my three day private lookout suite, top left. Steve Makris

Although Kepa was obviously handpicked for my perfect Airbnb stay, a few weeks later in Israel I had a chance to use Airbnb on my own, under very different circumstances.  I had difficulty finding a hotel room on short notice in a sold-out, convention-filled Tel Aviv. Within minutes, I was able to find three suitable apartments on my smartphone using the Airbnb app. They all were within blocks of the Tel Aviv Yafo district, a minute’s walk from the popular beachfront Shlomo Lahat Promenade. All three hosts responded within minutes and my business partner and I chose a two-bedroom unit with king-size beds for three days for $100 USD a day – something impossible to find in a Tel Aviv hotel.

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Peter Giorgi Airbnb Global Head of Advertising and Content with Airbnb – Is Mankind – ad campaign commercial currently airing on prime TV. Steve Makris

But my online payment completion ran into a glitch when I temporarily lost my Internet connection. My host and I agreed to a cash settlement, now outside Airbnb’s protective shell. Despite our initial warm meeting with a gracious host and agreed-upon cash payment terms, we had to abandon our stay on our first night when the air conditioning failed. Our host would not refund the entire amount, but Airbnb, having had a record of the original booking transaction and messaging, quickly resolved our problem.

Airbnb San Francisco Headquarters – laid back and productive work space. Steve Makris

Airbnb pays much attention to its brand, with positive feel-good messaging in its marketing campaign.

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“We like to speak about human truths, like belonging anywhere, somewhere,” says Zifkin. “It’s about telling stories about how meeting new people is desirable, an adventure, something you really want to do.”

Not long ago, the company added Cuba to its list of hosted Airbnb sites, currently at 2,000. It took out full-page ads in five major daily newspapers in the US.  Travellers were excited.

“We saw tweets of our newspaper ads,” says Zifkin. “You see a very different side of Cuba when you stay with an Airbnb host there.”

Airbnb San Francisco Headquarters – laid back and productive work space. Steve Makris

Airbnb embarks on catchy, innovative ideas to keep its hosts open minded. Last New Year’s Eve, Airbnb deposited $10 in 100,000 hosts’ payment accounts asking them to use the money to do something kind for someone they had never met before.

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“It ranged from buying a cup of coffee or buying a book for someone standing in line, to a woman in Israel who cooked a dinner for 10 people she hadn’t met before,” says Zifkin.

Airbnb San Francisco Headquarters strikes a balance between work and well being. Steve Makris

Airbnb boasts a safe comfortable experience through its Trust and Safety programs for more than 60 million guests and has a comprehensive guide to help people become Airbnb hosts. The company’s listings include unique properties—houseboats, treehouses, even igloos—as well as the expected range of spare bedrooms, basement suites, condos, or houses.

Airbnb San Francisco Headquarters sprinkled with famous theme rentals like this retro tailer. Steve Makris

Interestingly, Airbnb was conceived by necessity when co-founders CPO Joe Gebbia, CEO Brian Chesky and CTO Nathan Biecharczyk decided to offer space in their apartment to pay for a recent rent hike. Luckily for them, hotel spaces were hard to find, with a major convention in town. They decided to offer an airbed in their living room, the very bed that led to the name of their new service. Today Airbnb is in more than 190 countries.

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Employee pets are welcome at Airbnb San Francisco headquarters. Steve Makris

The Host Protection Insurance program is currently available in Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Ireland, Italy, Japan, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Portugal, Singapore, Spain, United Kingdom and the United States.

Airbnb Booking Tips:

  • Read as many reviews of a particular host place as possible. The more the better;
  • Ask questions about features when messaging with a host and pay attention to their attitude;
  • Keep searching. In busy popular areas, new host locations become available frequently;
  • Compare prices and reviews;
  • Don’t let the professional pictures fool you. If there is no picture of a bedroom or bathroom, it might be a bad sign;
  • Be open-minded, as most hosted places are more like your cousin’s house than a pristine hotel room;
  • Keep the string of your email/messaging conversations with your hosts, in case of problems. Airbnb will also keep a record.

Airbnb stats:

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  • 33,000 Canadian host listings hosted more than 627,000 Canadian and global guests while 935,000 Canadians stayed with Airbnb hosts while travelling in the past year;
  • Top destinations that Canadians use Airbnb when travelling internationally include New York, Paris and Barcelona;
  • Montreal, known internationally for its rich culture and hospitality, is home to a thriving Airbnb community made up of more than 9,000 listings;
  • Over 40 million total guests have stayed on Airbnb all-time. 25 million over the past year;
  • Currently there are over 80,000 villas, 4,000 castles, 3,800 treehouses, 1,000 islands, 9,000 boats, 700 igloos and 500 lighthouses available to book on Airbnb. On a recent night over 100 people were staying in yurts;
  • 82 per cent of hosts share only the home in which they live;
  • 50 per cent of hosts earn moderate to low income;
  • 47 per cent of hosts say that hosting helped them stay in their homes;
  • 76 per cent of Airbnb travellers want to explore a specific neighbourhood;
  • 89 per cent of Airbnb travellers want to live like a local;
  • 76 per cent of Airbnb properties are outside the main hotel districts;
  • Airbnb guests stay longer than typical tourists;
  • 50 per cent of Airbnb guest spending is in the neighbourhood where they stayed.

Cool mobile apps while you travel 

On the way to your Airbnb destination check out new Android and iOS apps recently launched by Microsoft and Adobe, alongside their core applications like Word and Photoshop. They are powerful yet simple to run from the palm of your hand. Let’s check some out.


Microsoft’s new reworked Office 2016 features smarter live collaboration and user intelligence. Its Continuum feature automatically adjusts the screen looks according to what device you are using, from smartphones, tablets, laptops and desktops. Read more about Office 2016 and how to get the best deal, including free upgrades here

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Microsoft Office Lens converts your smart phone into a scanner for receipts, documents and more
Microsoft Office Lens converts your smart phone into a scanner for receipts, documents and more. provided
Microsoft Wunderlist keeps track and reminds you of things to do and places to go
Microsoft Wunderlist keeps track and reminds you of things to do and places to go. Provided

These totally new included free mobile apps help organize your goings on wherever you are. Search them in you mobile app store.

  • Wunderlist collects ideas, things to do and places to see, like travel plans, recipes and shopping lists. Available on iOS, Android (integrates with Google Now,) PC, Mac and Web;
  • Sunrise is a refreshing calendar app for Exchange, Google and iCloud. Available on iOS and Android;
  • Office Lens digitizes documents, business cards, whiteboard notes, receipts or sticky notes. Your iOS, Android camera devices become scanners. Also for PC, Mac and Web;
  • The new Sway, similar to Prezi, easily creates shareable, interactive stories for work, school and home that look great from any screen, online too. Available on Windows 10, iOS and Web. Check out the Office 2016 product guide which was made with Sway.

Sway in the real world

New York photographer Winston Struye uses Microsoft’s Sway app to help disadvantaged kids tell stories about themselves around the world. Steve Makris

Professional New York-based photographer Winston Struye uses Microsoft’s Sway as a tool at the Slideluck Youth Initiative where he teaches digital story-telling to under-served youth around the world.

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“When I went to university for photography I learned not to just take a picture but how to find a story,” he said. He helps his students empower themselves by sharing experiences with words and pictures online, using Sway to tell the story digitally.

“I’m always looking for tools to make that process of storytelling easier, engaging and interactive,” he said, choosing the Internet screen, today’s young generation preferred method of communication.

But he puts a twist on how his students, as far away as Nepal, prepare for a story – with their eye and thought.

“Describe the whole story in your head and then put the lens in front of your eyes and frame it,” he said.

His students then use the easy-to-learn Sway to create an interactive story online.

Adobe Creative Cloud goes mobile 

At the recent annual Adobe Max shindig in Los Angeles, the media giant introduced powerful apps for mobile devices alongside its more serious core Creative Cloud online suite of graphics, video, audio and web design suite. The complete Creative Cloud subscription costs $49.99 USD a month. But its $9.99 monthly Adobe Creative Cloud Photography plan is perfect for photo enthusiasts.

It includes always updated versions of Photoshop CC and Lightroom CC and has added Adobe Portfolio, for creating photo portfolio websites. What better way to show off your photography to the World Wide Web? Subscribers also have access to Adobe Synch for managing their Photoshop and Lightroom setttings and preferences and for sharing from other devices when travelling.

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Adobe Elements Photoshop and Premiere Elements combo is a powerful editing tool for photo enthusiasts. Provided

Budget-minded photo/video enthusiasts can opt for Photoshop Elements 14 & Premiere Elements 14 combo one-time purchase pack from participating stores for $199.99. It has content intelligence, meaning it knows what needs to be done to improve your pictures. Its automated features and a friendly interface help turn your quick snapshots and video clips into pro-like photos and movies. For more information click here.

Adobe new free mobile apps 

Powerful Adobe Photoshop Fix for iOS and soon for Android
Powerful Adobe Photoshop Fix for iOS and soon for Android. Provided

Search the following apps in your mobile app store:

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  • Adobe added powerful mobile editing apps. Photoshop Fix enables quick retouching with healing brush and liquefy for asset capture on the go. Available for iPhone and iPad with Android scheduled for a later release;
  • Adobe Capture CC combines Adobe Brush, Adobe Shape, Adobe Color and Adobe Hue into a single and simple-to-use app. Available for iPhone and iPad with Android scheduled for a later release;
  • Adobe also shipped updates to connected Creative Cloud mobile apps, including Photoshop Mix, Photoshop Sketch, Illustrator Draw, Comp CC and Premiere Clip.

For more information on the new Adobe Creative Lab features check here.

Giveaway – an affordable phone that has it all 

Alcatel IDOL 3 can show upright from any angle – even upside down. Provided

Sunday’s Global News giveaway, the Alcatel  IDOL 3, is a lot of everything, which in total makes it a great affordable phone. It has a gorgeous 5.5-inch Full-HD Technicolor display, dual front-facing speakers with JBL audio, 13 megapixel rear camera, plus one of the widest angle 8 megapixel front selfie cameras and a big battery that has power to spare.

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It’s the first smartphone in North America to include Eye-D – a biometric technology that uses eye print verification for secure authentication to unlock a user’s device with a simple selfie. It also features a fully reversible interface (meaning you can use it upside down the same way you use it right side up). It is impressively thin, light and features smart single combo slot for the SIM card and micro-SD expansion. Available from Bell, Koodo Mobile, Virgin Mobile and TELUS, the later for $0 with plan or $360 outright.

Big sound on the go 

Sound Blaster Roar inside view of Bluetooth do-it-all speaker with power to spare. Provided

The Sound Blaster Roar wins hands-down in “how many top-tier speaker elements can we cram in a box” category. It also wins on quality sound on the go with extra features. Two high performance amplifiers, and five speaker drivers, including a built-in active subwoofer, blows you away with rich sound. It has a wireless Bluetooth with a built-in micro-SD slot for onboard music, it charges smartphones off its battery and connects to other devices like TVs, laptops, game consoles and more, through traditional Aux In or micro-USB. It also comes with a quality case. On, $249 CDN and worth every penny.

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