I have to admit, my most recent trip to Singapore was a price-sensitive excursion. Which is to say I was looking at a stay of three weeks with a budget which would have comfortably offered me a nice suite for one night, at the Ritz-Carlton.
Clearly there were going to be tensions between my vision of what I deserve in life against what life was coo-cooing to me in terms of a reality check.
A near and dear friend came to my budgeting rescue with the suggestion I check out 9flats and Airbnb.
These are the new “it” brands in booking accommodation from private residences, be they apartments or flats – effectively budget accommodation provided by local private property owners.
The brave new frontier of accommodation crowdsourcing if you like.
I figured neat idea, strange names. I mean I get the flats but what's with the 9 and I get bnb but what’s with the Air? I discovered 9flats is headquartered in Berlin. This hails after all from the home of Siemens and Ficken Schnapps. Airbnb is conversely domiciled in San Francisco like any self-respecting post dotcomer but few excuses for a brand that unites airheads with bed and breakfast.
AirBnB’s site suggests a homely comfortable accommodation journey, a chance to meet new friends in new places. I hasten to add it’s more akin to the prospect of meeting your long lost aunty with all the allure of home cooked meals and freshly laundered woolly socks.
Meanwhile our European friends at 9 flats suggest something perhaps a little more racy with some glossy pictures of sprawling Mediterranean penthouses and some rather swish-looking London apartments.
Not being a sucker for the lost aunty marketing thrust, I of course immediately opted for 9flats with an eye to finding my bachelor pad to share in sun-soaked Singapore. Of course we now know that increasingly it is rather more the soaked end of the spectrum that Singapore specialises in.
I set to and sent off several expressions of interest in some 9flats offerings. The process was simple, Facebook aligned and quick. I then waited… and waited. After several days of silence I began to wonder if there was an issue with the mail back at Reichstag HQ so I was forced to switch my search back to the warm fuzzies of Airbnb.
I must confess by this stage I had switched my attention from the perusing the apartment picturess to perusing the profiles of the apartment owners.
I settled on a rather attractive looking temporary landlady prospect. She indicated she travelled a lot which suggested two viable scenarios, one, being that I may get the apartment to myself or two, if she was there that might not be an altogether disagreeable experience. I would hasten to add that I am not inferring any impropriety and nor does Airbnb suggest that’s there’s a singles social networking dimension. Hmm now there’s a thought!
The apartment, as it turned out, was perfectly satisfactory. It came with a domestic whom I can’t fault nor the cute little cat with a ton of attitude. I sensed the maid was perhaps a little unhappy with the ever changing retinue of visitors but I was in luck - the apartment owner was away a good portion of my stay.
Effectively I had the apartment, the maid and the cat to myself. Purrfect. When my charming landlady finally appeared, happily resembling her photograph, alas, a game of cat and mouse ensued between the frustrated maid and the equally frustrated-with-maid landlady.
Personally I found this an entertaining bonus to my stay but I imagine some may have found the subtle Punch and Judy show less entertaining than a night at the Sheraton Towers KTV.
What we come back to loud and clear with Airbnb and 9flats is that’s it’s not just about a cheap alternative accommodation experience. You will find yourself living in someone’s home.
This is not for everyone but for me, it was no problem. My bed while of a non-compromising single dimension was clean and comfortable. Airbnb and 9flats in my view offer a serious alternative to budget accommodation providers.
I paid S$60 a night and while that didn’t include breakfast, I had my own room, free wireless and effectively the run of a centrally located apartment. I might add that the price for some reason changed quite dramatically depending on the number of days selected, so check this point. The owner was very helpful in offering me a good compromise on the prices generated.
My experience also suggested (again may I hasten to re-emphasise without impropriety) that the owner/landlord profile will give you some clues as to what to expect.
I note in most cases there were TripAdvisor style recommendations under many of the listed accommodation providers. I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this experience to travellers who are looking for an alternative to budget accommodation providers.
There are plenty of interesting options and if you agree with me that life is all about the journey not the destination, then you may enjoy a new experience and meet a new friend – in my case the warm fuzzies of a cat.
Note: After writing this, I read an article that said Airbnb could have more rooms than Hilton by 2012 - it's a changing world when it comes to travellers and where they choose to stay.