The Daily Gamecock

Head-to-head: Hotels versus Airbnbs for day trips gone long

The case for hotels

So, you were planning a day trip which turned into a two-or-three day trip, and you’re looking for a place to stay. Although Airbnb might provide a bit more privacy, hotels provide better accommodations through refund and cancelation policies, access to resources and convenience.

After Airbnb’s birth in 2008, the young startup swept the tourism market, causing hotels to counter with the addition of restaurants and bars to attract travelers who were flocking to Airbnb’s. But since the start of the pandemic, the tourism market has been flipped on its head, and travelers should look to hotels for a more reliable choice.

As COVID-19 numbers rise and fall across the South, travel plans might be especially volatile during this time — flexibility is a must when it comes to lodging accommodations.

Airbnb has what it calls its COVID-19 “Extenuating Circumstance Policy,” which only covers a cancelation of a reservation made on or before March 14, 2020, with a check-in date 45 days following. That means all cancelation policies are at the mercy of the homeowner.

Renters are not protected from losing money if a trip is deemed unsafe under current COVID-19 conditions and are forced to violate the owner’s cancelation policy. Airbnb states on its website that situations including: “travel advisories and restrictions; health advisories and quarantines” are not covered, and the renter is fully reliable for their rental fee after a cancelation.

Owners can choose their cancelation policy from Airbnb’s range of options from “flexible” to “Super Strict 60 Days.”

Hotels see many more customers than a single Airbnb host, and in dealing with so many individual bookings, they need to cater to the hectic schedule of the traveler. The New York Times pointed out “most hotels have generous cancellation policies that allow travelers to make changes to their reservations without penalty 24 to 48 hours in advance of arrival.”

The magnitude of rooms in a hotel is far more accommodating to changing schedules than a single room Airbnb. If you shift your trip a week or two, there is a greater chance that a smaller Airbnb will be unavailable versus a hotel that has access to hundreds of room options.

If you have any concerns about your stay, you have access to trained concierge and customer service right away who can troubleshoot with you. Because Airbnb revolves around regular individuals renting out their space, if an issue arises all disputes are to be settled directly between the host and the customer, which can get tricky without any corporate guidelines for how the host is to handle a situation.

During this time of social distancing, staying in a space shared by so many others can be daunting — but hotels are well-oiled machines with staff who serve the sole purpose of keeping the area germ-free.

Rich Harrill, research professor at USC’s College of Hospitality, Retail and Tourism Management, said hotels have changed their protocols in response to COVID-19.

“All the hotels at almost every level of every star has picked up their game in terms of cleanliness and doing a better job, a more diligent job, with that," Harrill said.

Airbnb doesn't give its hosts any professional cleaning services to make sure each space is sanitized. The host oversees the process of turning over their own rental space, and all the company equips them with is a checklist posted on its website. There is no way to ensure the space is being properly cleaned, and you are left at the mercy of the host’s judgement.

The hotel industry has the upper hand in overall experience, according to Harrill.

“When you compare histories, the hotel industry have been around in the United States for hundreds of years, since the beginning," Harrill said. "In times of distress or trouble it seems to me that we would fall back on the industry that has a longer track record."

Airbnb is focused on convenience for guests and host, whereas hotels are all about user experience. Whether you are following USC football at an away game or taking a beach getaway in Charleston, hotels are the way to go.

The case for Airbnbs

Ever since the rise of Airbnb, there has been a question raised again and again: Airbnb or hotel? Weighing the two carefully, it's clear that Airbnb is the cheaper and superior option, especially for college students.

The idea of Airbnb started in 2007 when two roommates rented out air mattresses in their apartment when they were down on rent. From there, they invited their old roommate to the business idea and created what they called an Air Bed and Breakfast service, later to be shortened to Airbnb. Today, hosts can rent out everything from their second home to a shed in their backyard. Also, it is now a $31 billion business.

But what makes them better than hotels? For starters, Airbnb is much cheaper. A day trip that most USC students will take in their college career is one down to Myrtle Beach. An Airbnb right across the street from the Atlantic Ocean that houses two people can cost less than $120 a night, which includes taxes, services and cleaning fees. On the other hand, a hotel in the Myrtle Beach area can cost around $240 a night, along with a 13% tax charge that isn’t included in that price. Airbnbs are, overall, more upfront with their prices.

Airbnb’s are better in the time of COVID-19 because while hotels have high cleaning standards, it's not as safe as an Airbnb, where you're usually only interacting with the owner, as opposed to hotel staff and other guests. Airbnb encourages a five-step cleaning protocol that will show up on your booking if the host follows this.

"My idea is to always go in and clean first," Charleston Superhost Sue Findley said. "To strip the bed; wash the towels; I wash the rugs on the floor every time. I sweep and mop, but, anyway, the idea is to clean it really well early and then to go back to check it and make sure."

Also, with Airbnb, you can be contact-free. Most hosts leave keys in a lockbox and allow you to do your own thing. At most hotels, you have to check in with someone and check out with someone. An Airbnb allows you to have your own clean space for your stay instead of sharing everything with hundreds of others.

One of the best things about staying in an Airbnb is the personal touch. You get to stay in the neighborhood you're visiting and learn how the people around there live their day-to-day lives. Lots of hosts will provide information about things to do while you are staying, such as local restaurants, hotspots around town and sights to see. You are also always able to contact the hosts for questions or if anything goes wrong.

"I'm all about the personal touches," Findley said.  "I have all kinds of stuff for the beach because we're about four miles from the beach, so I got chairs, boogie boards and towels, sunscreen and sunglasses, beach bags and all that stuff."

Another upside of Airbnb for college students is that almost anyone over 18 can rent. Some hotels in the U.S. don’t rent to anyone under 21 for liability reasons, which can be a struggle for college students still awaiting their 21st birthday.

In my experience, Airbnbs are 100% the way to go when taking day trips. I visited Greenville for my birthday and stayed in a small house through Airbnb. The hosts provided tips about the area and full access to their hot tub. They were very friendly and made sure that we all had a good time.

Airbnb is better for college students seeking freedom with a cheap, stress-free weekend.