I took a research trip to Brighton to see for myself how airbnb works. The place I choose was based on a lot of recommendations, the central location, and the affordable rate. The photos on air bnb presented a neat and quirky apartment.
(Above: welcome note)
I never once met the owner, which seemed very odd. This kind of trust in strangers is certainly unusual and most people I spoke to after, consented that they would never let strangers into their house whilst they were absent. We were given free reign of the house and could’ve done what we had liked but out respect and civility, (and fear of being caught) we were cautious in our browsing. The owner’s bedroom was left undisturbed and the cupboards untouched.
Being let into someone’s private space that I had never met before, I found myself constructing the image of the owner from the furniture, notes on the fridge, ornaments and books. I drew conclusions that I will never be able to validate.
There were still uncertain boundaries of social etiquette that I assume anyone would question when staying in a stranger’s house. Although I had paid to stay, was it ok for me to use the kitchen and the owner’s crockery or utensils? I assumed it would be awkward to start cooking a meal, but I was also too uncomfortable to make tea. Could I take a bath if I wanted to? And were the towels left out in the bathroom for us to use? These are the kind of questions that wouldn’t arise in a hotel.
In the morning, when I finally heard the owner in the next room, I had come to realise that they probably didn’t want to meet us. It was easier for them to get on with their own business than making forced polite conversation with people they will never see again.
After my stay, I felt that there is definite scope for design in a lot of aspects of airbnb and similar sites. I could well have been a complete stranger to Brighton and had no idea of where to go and what to do, thinking that I would have been able to rely on the host for information. The only guide left for us was an A to Z of Brighton. Another aspect to investigate is how can an owner depersonalise their house for strangers staying? What can be done to stop guests exploiting a host’s facilities and resources?