Airbnb and the Rio Olympics
The view from Casa Florence | Leblon, Rio de Janeiro or "Chic penthouse, fab views, nr beach"
When online home-rental marketplace Airbnb Inc. won the official contract to provide alternative accommodation for the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympic Games in March last year, it must have seemed like a brilliant way of upping the game for Airbnb, getting Rio hosts some extra money and solving the accommodation problem for at least some of the extra 380,000 visitors expected.
Certainly hosts are being busily added in all areas of the city providing a much needed alternative to scarce and expensive hotel rooms. However look a bit closer and a few challenges start raising their ugly heads, not least how guests can actually find the type of accommodation they are looking for when faced with hundreds of possible options and how, as a host, you can get your property in front of those people who might be looking for just what you are offering.
For any reservation system to function well in Brazil for international guests 3 things have to be in place:
- Necessary information. Search results need to bring up places which fit the needs/wants of those people searching
- Confidence/trust. Potential guests need to be sure that the place they have chosen exists (!) and that it will deliver what is on offer
- Easy/secure booking processes. It needs to be easy for guests to to see what they are paying for and transfer the money safely and in a timely fashion.
In normal circumstances Airbnb systems function extremely well on 3) and pretty well regarding 1) and 2). Any normal independent international traveller coming to Rio will have done their research on the best areas to stay, and can choose appropriate properties based on price, description and previous reviews.
Problem areas for Airbnb & the Rio Olympics:
- Location results. For the most part people coming are those who have chosen Rio because of the games and want to stay in places which are convenient for the events they have tickets for. Nowhere is this information available, and there is no way of searching for places with easy access to events.
- Type of traveller. Whereas the vast majority of international travellers coming during the year are couples, during the Olympics many people are coming with families or in groups of friends that would be most happy staying together in a B&B or pousada or a couple of rooms in an apartment, if Airbnb offered this option.
- Lack of knowledge/safety. Most people will only have heard of Copacabana and Ipanema (and possibly Barra now) as places to stay and are completely lost regarding other good places and the relative safety of those places.
- Confidence and trust Related to the above, with so many properties coming on board just for the Olympics a lot will have no reviews, and references which might help instill confidence are not shown on the ads that come up.
- Display of search results. Working through search results is already difficult. (I’ve tried to find my own place plus 2 other Airbnb properties using normal filters and exact address and have failed miserably); with the huge numbers of properties on offer for the Olympics it will be even more difficult to find and choose the right place.
So what should Airbnb be doing in Brazil?
- Allow hosts to enter multiple private rooms, in apartments or houses, together with number of bathrooms available for those rooms and if bathrooms are private or shared.
- Allow hosts to say if children of all ages are accepted, and if not from what age.
- Allow hosts to say what percentage of price children pay from what age.
- Allow guests to input number of adults and children with ages.
Re search results:
- Display number of host references as well as guest reviews on ads
- Allow search by ease of access to specific Olympic venues
- Allow search for larger numbers/family groups in private rooms in apartments/houses
- Add a consolidated list of search results (suggest 50 per page) for processing large numbers of properties
And the results of Airbnb implementing these changes?
Easier/ more effective search for guests; better visibility for appropriate properties and a whole new pousada market opening up.
For the guests the results of changing things as per the above will result in much easier and more informed choices, and much less confusion/ frustration when booking for the Olympics, but making these changes will also help to get more hosts on board.
One of the key difficulties Airbnb hosts have if they register now is how to get the necessary reviews to get featured in the top search results whilst tourist numbers are low adn there is a lot of competition. At present reviews are practically the only way for them to stand out. By adding the possibility of posting references as well as reviews, the ability to include multiple rooms and show ease of access to individual Olympic venues, the playing field becomes a much more interesting place to be.
Lastly by making these changes a whole new market opens up guests, hosts and Airbnb itself: that of pousadas . It’s late to be starting now but there are still hundreds of pousadas in Rio which could be brought on board for the Olympics and additionally serve as a test ground for Airbnb’s market development throughout the rest of Brazil.
About the author:
Alison McGowan is a long time Rio resident and expert on Brazil off beat and alternative accommodation. Comments below are based on using Airbnb herself since early January and the many enquiries of potential Olympic’ visitors generated through press articles and hiddenpousadasbrazil.com. She can be contacted here.
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