It’s no surprise that I love homestay opportunities like those found with Airbnb – a unique way to see a city and make lasting memories, what’s not to love? We can even provide you with a wonderful first-time offer if you’re yet to use the services of Airbnb, with new users to the site being able to get £25 off of their first homestay booking over £55, or £9 off of their first Airbnb experience over £36; check out the information on that here.
I have however found out that a couple of my friends and family would never consider staying in a homestay property, and why? They worry about the level of safety, and most often the actual genuine nature of the listings themselves. ‘Anyone can post anything online really, it’s probably a scam to get your money and leave you with nowhere to stay.’ While this is of course a valid concern, with the knowledge we’re discussing today, you can make sure that your homestay adventure is as safe and secure as possible.
The first thing to consider is the legality of staying in a homestay property in your chosen location in the first place. While you may have seen in the news that some international cities have issues with locals being priced out of the main city areas due to the bulk-buying of locations to only rent out to travellers, you may not know that some cities have increased fines and some have even banned the presence of homestay locations altogether in certain forms. New York for instance does not permit the option for whole-property rental through homestay websites (and only permanent residents are allowed to rent their home, with them still living there, for up to 30 days). Some locations do not permit the renting of properties for over a certain number of days – this is the case in Amsterdam, where whole properties can only be rented out by the hosts for 30 days a year, and only to up to 4 adults. Other cities require the property owner to gain permission from the city before renting out their space – this includes in the major European cities of Barcelona and Berlin. This doesn’t however mean that properties still don’t pop up on booking platforms without the correct permissions or legalities. While it is of course not the fault of the traveller if correct legal procedures are not maintained, if you know you are travelling to a location that has stricter homestay rules (websites like Airbnb often discuss the rights and expectations of travellers and hosts for larger cities on their website), be sure to discuss this with your host prior to your arrival – a genuine host will definitely provide you with evidence that their property follows all local laws.
So you’ve checked you can actually stay in a homestay property in your holiday destination. Next, how can you check if a listing on a homestay website is legitimate to begin with? Checking out reviews is often the best, and quickest, way to go. Look out for listings (the more recent the better) discussing the level of contact with the host or their team – comments mentioning positive interactions with hosts are a great sign that the location is a genuine one. A great level of detail about the property itself is also a positive – this is something to consider when you review a property yourself; I always write my reviews in the mindset of showing the next traveller just what staying in the property is like. You also need to make sure that the URL you are using is actually a valid website – search through the platform itself rather than through a generic search engine to make sure you’re actually safely booking the property in the first place.
You might not always meet someone face-to-face on your trip, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the whole thing is a scam either. Contacting your host before your trip, especially if they indicate that you won’t be meeting anyone physically to hand over keys, is a good way to judge the situation – message them on the platform you are using to discuss specific details about entering the location (though you can only do this after booking). I have personally stayed in Airbnbs where I haven’t met the owner or a member of the team mentioned on the listing, but have been given clear advice and guidance due to the contact I’ve been in with them before. If you’re really concerned after making your booking, there is no shame in asking the host beforehand to prove that the pictures online are actually indicative of the place they’re renting, and that they even have access to it in the first place – if they’re genuine, they won’t take it personally!
In the slim chance you do end up booking and travelling to a fake listing or a place that looks nothing like the images provided at all, the first, and most important, thing to do is contact your homestay provider immediately. While many of these sites advise you to contact the host first, in a clear scamming situation, it is very unlikely they will respond to you. You do however have to send a message to your host on the platform to show your awareness of the issue; this is a condition of Airbnb’s refund policy. It is critical you do this as soon as possible, with Airbnb stipulating that all claims of this nature must be filed within the first 24 hours of the scheduled stay. This is also the best way to make sure you are refunded as quickly as possible – Airbnb retains all payment you have given to the host for the first day of the booking in order to ensure that you as a guest are not left high and dry in the case of a scam.
Do you have any tips and tricks to finding the best, and most legitimate homestay location that we haven’t discussed? Are you now more likely to book an Airbnb adventure (remember to check out the page here for your discount) for your next holiday? Be sure to tell us in the comments below or through our social media channels all about your homestay experiences!
Image: Patrick Perkins
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