Making money renting out your spare room

You may have seen the ads on the internet, "Rent out your spare room and make money".  The ads could have been for a new accommodation booking start up "Airbnb".

Having just started a small hotel in Lovina, Bali, we are always on the look out for new ways to market and promote our business.  There are many booking websites available where you can list your place for free.  When a guest makes a booking through their website, the website usually charges the guest a 10 per deposit which they keep and the guest pays the rest of the money when they arrive at the hotel. 

That is how Hostelworld and Hostelbookers operate and many other booking sites that specialize in budget accommodation.  The sites are well known in the travel community, but the way the sites look and operate haven't changed for years.

With the popularity of social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, it's not surprising that there was space in the budget accommodation booking niche, for a new player.  Airbnb is one of these new players and they are taking an old idea, booking accommodation on the internet and giving it a fresh look.

The idea behind AirBnB is that anyone with an airmattress and a spare room, can let people stay the night in their house, apartment or even on a boat!  It is not just for private homes, but also for regular hotels, bed and breakfasts and villas. 

The design of their website is simple and clean and very different with most hotel booking sites, that are extremely "busy" and difficult to know exactly where to find what you are looking for – both from the point of view of a customer and accommodation provider.  Joining the site is easy and you can add pictures and descriptions to your listing and set your own prices.  You see the listing for our guesthouse in Bali here.

Potential guests can send you an email asking questions about your place.  Guests can then book rooms online and then the owner of the property can decide whether they want to accept or decline the booking request.  The guest then arrives and they check the room is ok, they have 24 hours then to pay for their booking.  Bookings are paid through Paypal and the owner also receives payment to their Paypal account, minus a small booking fee.  It's a good way to handle bookings as no cash is involved.

Guests can leave reviews of the property and property owners can even leave comments about the guests.  AirBnB is still a fairly small site, but I wonder if this could become a problem further down the track.  The advantage that AirBnB has however, over another big travel review site, is that you know exactly the person who stayed and they know you.   AirBnB sometimes does promotions with travel companies like LonelyPlanet where they offer promo codes which you can use to get a discount on your stay.

The focus of Airbnb's properties is small independently run places.  The site has a community feel to it and I am sure the site will never accept large corporate run hotel chains.  Since we live on the  property and our guesthouse is our home also, we like to treat guests as though we would our friends and I think that Airbnb helps us to reflect this feeling.

Just after joining Airbnb, we received an invitation from them, asking if we would like a professional photographer to visit our place.  We of course accepted, but since the company is in the US and we are in Bali, we didn't expect anyone to come sometime soon.  Well it seems they employ freelance photographers around the world and we had a professional photographer come and visit our place a few days later.  A few days after that we had professionally taken photos on our listing. 

Airbnb has an affiliate program and since I am happy with the service they provide, I have no problem promoting them on my websites.   Reading through their blog and company profile on their website, they seem like a young and fun company to work for.  I just don't hope they become too successful and beomce all corporate like some of these startups do.