Founded in 2008 by Brian Chesky, Joe Gebbia and Nathan Blecharczyk, Airbnb has irreversibly changed the landscape of the hospitality industry.
Hotels which were already competing on secondary booking services such as Agoda or Expedia, suddenly found a big chunk of their market share being swallowed by this new concept of a trusted community marketplace, where anyone could list and find accommodation around the world.
Travellers were no longer restricted to the traditional hotel model. Instead, they could find a castle in the Yorkshire Dales, a loft apartment overlooking the Seine or a treehouse neighbouring the Black Forest.
It was always going to be a fascinating situation when this unstoppable concept made its way into Vietnam, whose famously cheap hotels have kept it as one of the best value holiday destinations for years.
Peace and Quiet
One property taking advantage of the fledgling Airbnb market in Vietnam is Little Cat Ba (350 Ha Sen, Cat Ba, Haiphong), a modest eight-room resort on the edge of Hang Vem Lake, on Cat Ba Island.
“Around 40% of our guests come from Airbnb,” says Pham Thang, manager at Little Cat Ba. “It had an immediate effect on our business.”
Thang says the low commission fee of Airbnb makes it a great alternative to other booking websites, especially for hosts at smaller properties.
“For places like Little Cat Ba, Airbnb makes it even easier for us to stand out as a more distinctive style of accommodation,” says Thang.
Boxes and Trees
Playing into Airbnb’s reputation for offering unusual accommodation, the treehouses at Dao Anh Khanh Studio (7/462 Ngoc Thuy, Long Bien, Hanoi) offer guests an experience not found anywhere else in Vietnam.
“My daughter put us on Airbnb about a year ago,” says Khanh, the artist-engineer-owner. “But I didn’t do this for the business; it’s my art.”
A quick glance around the property confirms this. Each treehouse is differently decorated, some with windows made from wine bottles, others with branches creating a climbing-frame obstacle to the bed.
“But Airbnb is definitely the best website for this type of place,” he says. “It attracts people who are looking for a more special property, and a more personal experience.”
Following on from the popularity of capsule hotels in Japan, pod hotels offer slightly more space, while still keeping costs down. In Hanoi, the Box Hotel (16 Hang Buom, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi) and the Pod Hotel (53 Hang Chieu, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi) are Hanoi’s only entrants to this genre.
“Airbnb doesn’t bring us as much success as booking.com,” says Tran Bach, co-owner of both hotels. “But it’s good for the host, as we can communicate directly with the guests.”
One of Bach’s partners, Le Duy, says Airbnb is a good place for their hotel, because it doesn’t follow the typical hotel or hostel model. Bach thinks the variety on Airbnb benefits both the hosts and the guests.
“The guests can find something special,” he says, “and for us, the competition is an incentive to always improve our standards.”
Airbnb’s policy of inclusion and respect could be an obstacle for many of Vietnam’s potential hosts. In a country where job listings openly declare a refusal to hire people of certain ethnicities, genders or nationalities, crushing these everyday prejudices will be essential if Vietnam is to develop a large marketplace of private hosts.
It’s still early days for Airbnb’s Indochina invasion, so it remains to be seen if this will be a full-blown takeover, or a middling contribution to one of the world’s most competitive tourist regions.