Airbnb No More

Four months ago, when I realised that my rent was well above 70% of my salary I started searching for a new home in Colombo. Then I decided that I would stay put – why? Because all rentals here seem to have a 1-year minimum lease. I didn’t want to commit to a year in Sri Lanka because I just don’t know where I will be or how I will feel about the country in 365 days.

My current apartment is a 2-bedder, so I thought the solution would be to find another expat (a long-term or intern) to share the apartment with me. I posted on a Facebook group specifically for this demographic to no avail. The rent (even half) was too expensive for most – not that I could blame them, I too was struggling. So after failing to find a roomie, I turned to Airbnb.

Airbnb is not new, but it is only emerging in this part of the world recently. I, like so many others, have read absolute horror stories on the internet about Airbnb guests who destroy homes (cue Airbnb Hell). It made me nervous to think I would be housing complete strangers in my home so I spoke to another Colombo Airbnb host about her experience, she was lovely enough to respond to a fake inquiry I made on her listing (the only way to get in contact with a host). Her advice centred around chatting to the potential guest online prior to accepting their booking, you usually get a feel for the person after a few messages. Secondly, she said that she had stopped taking bookings from single Indian men, she said she had had a number of bad experiences and had decided to keep herself safe she had a rule.

So after much deliberation, I decided to take the plunge. I bought new bed linen and towels. I set up the guest room and tidied the apartment until it was shining. Took photos and wrote descriptions, instructions and rules. I spoke to my parents about the plan, and although they were concerned about strangers being in my home they agreed that financially it made sense. Once I had posted on Airbnb, I noticed that many of the listings also used HomeAway, TripAdvisor Rentals and VRBO. So out of interest (and the need for money), I added my listing to those sites too.

I had my first inquiry the day after I posted. A single Indian man on TripAdvisor Rentals. As a safety net, I decided I wouldn’t take Instant Bookings, I wanted to chat with the person a little to gauge their personality. Although I had been warned against taking bookings like this, the optimist in me decided to pursue and chat to them. The man was aggressively asking me to reduce to price of the booking and he wanted my direct phone number (a no-no on rental sites) when I told him I would prefer to communicate through the app he refused, so my first inquiry went nowhere.

The first booking I took was from HomeAway. A couple travelling the world for three year on their life savings. When they enquired, they told me a little about themselves and outlined their budget asking for a cheaper price, in my naivety I agreed. The prices I had set basically worked like this: half my rent, divide by 30 which gives a daily rate, add Rs.1500 to each booking for the cleaner (yes, I pay my cleaner well!). I never once considered the price of utilities. The couple loved using the Airconditioner – something I never dare do, the price of electricity here is shocking. And they loved hot showers, why in this country I will never know. So my heavy discount on the price meant that when the monthly utility bill came in I actually lost money on this booking.

I took it to be an expensive lesson – from now on I wouldn’t lower my rate. After that I hosted mother and son, Sri Lankans visiting family. Some of the best guests I had, they bought me chocolate and a small glass Kiwi bird. I had a Chinese business woman, insightful and full of adventure. She wanted to walk to her conference down the streets of Colombo on her very first morning! That evening she told me how she had gotten lost and finally caught a tuk-tuk.

Two Swedish girl’s sought refugee in my apartment after being harassed by local men. They told me of their last few uncomfortable days in Sri Lanka’s south. There was the free spirit, the real life Elizabeth Gilbert (from Eat, Pray, Love) who was developing a blog about love around the world. The friendly Frenchman who loved to swim, morning and evening, looking for his own home in Colombo. Finally, the solo old lady, who despite coming half-way around the world, spent her holiday inside the apartment refusing to visit temples or eat local food. Someone who had spent her entire life safe in a picturesque town and now fears all that is different, she brought her own tea (to Sri Lanka!) and tuna.

It wasn’t feasible for me to keep this up, the money I was charging was no where near enough to pay for half the rent. This was the reason I had started in the first place. So when a friend asked if she could rent the spare room permanently I jumped at the chance. So my days of being a hostess, although short are now over – almost. I still have to finish the last of my bookings. Although the financial stability will help it will be sad for it to be over, as another friend said, it made for good stories.

Although the financial stability will help it will be sad for it to be over, as another friend said, it made for good stories.


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