I am a travel agent by heart – right – this is, how you know me since nearly 30 years, and this is why I started my own online travel agency (OTA) called: VA Tourism Namibia; online yes, but absolutely not limited to a binary code. Let me explain!
I am also managing a 2-bedroom fully furnished apartment in the heart of Windhoek; which is rented out via Booking.com, Airbnb and some occasional newspaper ads.
The graph above (Credits: airhostsforum.com (powered by Airbnb)) shows pretty accurately how I find my clients for that little apartment:
About 50% of my guests are referrals through friends, neighbours or former guests; the other 50% are referrals through Airbnb and Booking.com. I never registered the apartment elsewhere, so these other sites are not relevant for me.
But I fill not only the role of a travel agent and a host, I am also a guest. I love to travel; I do so every year and to some far corners of the world. When I traveled in the UK and in Portugal a few months ago; I used both booking portals, depending on how close the offered accommodation was to the landmark (or friend) I planned to visit.
Now, let me share some very personal insights on the practical use of both platforms, from both levels of use: The host and the guest (and no! – I am not being paid for any of this, LOL!).
As you know, Booking.com and Airbnb both are in the middle between guest and host / lodge, and both inhibit direct contact by blacking out email addresses and telephone numbers in all correspondence. You are however allowed to sign off with your full name and you don’t need rocket science to find your host / your guest in social media for example.
Booking.com and Airbnb both advertise synchronisation of the ‘booking calendar’ with your company’s booking software (this does not work well!) as well as google calendar (this works well), which I found very practical. Initially, at least. Read on!
Airbnb processes customers’ payments and pays out automatically 24hours after the guests’ check-in. This is awesome. Further, they only subtract a minimal fee, around 3%.
Booking.com does not get involved in the payment process. They send out an invoice for 15% after the arrival date of your guest (they don’t check however, whether your guest actually rocks up at your doorstep!).
With regards to cancellation procedures, Airbnb beats Booking.com by lengths. If the guest cancels in Airbnb, the calendar shows ‘available’ again in a matter of seconds and the host will receive the pre-defined cancellation fee.
And when I cancelled my own fully paid Airbnb booking – the refund was booked back to my credit card account in 10 minutes, in spite of all warnings that a refund might take up to 14 days to process. Well done, Airbnb!
By contrast, Booking.com offers free cancellation and guests are further not required to confirm a booking.
If the host wants to cancel (because for example the guest does not respond to messages) – then Booking.com takes up to 2 weeks (= 14 days) to reset your booking calendar to ‘available’ again. Fatal, if you have only this one property. Worse even (is there a comparative/superlative to ‘fatal’?) if the Booking.com calendar is synchronised with the calendars of other booking engines… yes, then you are blocked by a phantom booking and Booking.com will not take responsibility for a possible loss of income. Not even a threat of legal action will accelerate the cancellation process.
On the positive side: Booking.com sent me a representative from the neighbouring country who inspected the apartment I wanted to list, before activating the listing. This I found really impressive.
Airbnb does not send anyone.
None of the two companies checks up on legitimacy – whether or not you are authorised to list the property – which is an open invitation to abuse. But hey – no risk, no fun!
My very personal summary:
Airbnb is the winner on both levels, by far. In both instances, in my eyes, Airbnb is reliable, professional and 100% convenient.
For the guest: Airbnb provides informative listings, an intuitive booking platform and quick and seamless cancellations, absolutely hassle-free and 100% satisfaction guaranteed.
For the host: Airbnb offers ‘dynamic pricing’ which puts ‘bums in the beds’ also in quiet times, they collect the money (and you know the client will come!) and they pay out without struggles, and lastly, the fees are low with 3%. This is fair, in my eyes, because they run the portal with automation, not with expensive human interaction.
One thing remains to be said, though: Both companies are ‘epic failures’ with regards to their hosting support hotlines / customer service. Technical questions (for instance, the dynamic pricing option sold the apartment for less than my minimum pricing – how can I prevent this for the future?) are not answered, and if you ever reach the friendly Booking.com representative to discuss host-initiated cancellation you are referred to a UK-hotline number where you are kept waiting for an hour and this is at the end simply too expensive.
So here we are! – The algorithms and automation of both platforms work well, as long as the pre-defined parameters are met. Any ‘out-of-the-ordinary’ request which needs human input with dedicated, creative problem-solving capabilities will by default remain floating unanswered in cyberspace.
Professional input by humans, their experience, knowledge and positive attitude to assisting their clients cannot in the near future be replaced by automated booking platforms.
This confirms to me that the VA Tourism approach to booking Namibia is the right one.
You ‘reserve’ your entire holiday in one cart, but we don’t only initiate automated confirmations for you. Your booking is received by a human first – who contacts and reconfirms with you the ‘pillars’ of your planned holidays and who applies her local expert practical knowledge in her recommendations for changes / improvement in accordance with your ideas.
Only once this process is completed and all your questions are answered, the individual bookings are placed. You can be certain that your valuable holiday-time and your valuable savings will not get spent on phantom bookings and unanswered requests for support.
That’s the difference between a local expert and a mathematical formula or a binary code.
Thanks for reading and enjoy your planning and ‘shopping’ on the VATourismNamibia.com website!