So I’m sitting here on the balcony of our AC room at Poppies guest house, Mirissa beach, typing. Navi is asleep on the comfy bed. The sun is shining and the hammock is swinging. Its 1pm on a Sunday. Here’s a picture of my view.
Poppies is the first choice guesthouse in the guidebook. We always have it in mind to try to get away from using the guidebooks where possible. The reason being that once an establishment makes it into the guidebook, they have a guaranteed revenue stream for 5 years and standards often slip as a consequence.
Poppies isn’t like that. The rooms are all freshly decorated, the grounds are immaculately manicured and staff are polite and attentive. The rate is £16 per night with AC.
We ended up arriving here in a bit of a panic. Originally we’d booked a small homestay outside of town which was very cheap using Booking.com.
Booking.com was started by a backpacker so it feels budget orientated which we like.
We also like genuine reviews. We’d heard you can only review on Booking.com if you register and legitimately book through the site. TripAdvisor, the main competitor allows unregistered posts, so it’s replete with fake 5 star reviews, likely written by the owners themselves.
Anyway, to cut a long story short, the homestay we’d booked was a dump. Nothing like the photos and nothing like the reviews. Very annoying.
We hailed a Tuc-Tuc from the street and did a bunk an hour after checking in. The owner didn’t seem bothered when I called him to explain so we didn’t lose any sleep over it either.
What did upset me though was that our first experience with Booking.com was a bad one.
Several days later, on deciding to spend Christmas in India, we tried to book an apartment using AirBnB. If you haven’t heard of Airbnb you’re probably over fifty or perhaps living under a rock. Look it up online.
What started a few years back as a way for people to rent out their homes and spare rooms to holiday makers has turned into the largest accommodation booking website the world has ever seen.
Back when I was in my office cubicle dreaming of days like today, I used to surf AirBnB and fantasise about living in a penthouse in Hong Kong or renting a straw hut in Fiji for a month. Prices were super low and accommodation was full of local character.
It looked like an excellent option for slow, budget travel.
But that was a year ago.
Delhi, our planned Christmas stop, is about number 5 on the list of cheapest city destinations worldwide. You can eat for under a £1 a day and sleep in a very nice hotel with maid service for under £5. Monthly disposable income for working class locals is about £350 and Numbeo.com has one bedroom apartment rentals in the city centre averaging £167 per month.
Cheapest Airbnb price? £14 per night. For a shithole room with no windows near the airport.
I scrolled and scrolled and scrolled through AirBnB Listings until my thumb hurt but,
I couldn’t come up with anything remotely resembling a decent private living experience for under about £24 per night.
By the time I added on the booking fees and taxes I found I was looking at nearly £250 per week.
My frustration was compounded by spotting the same listings over and over again, just at different prices. Sometimes the title would be different but the photos the same. I’m too new to AirBnB to spot the angle here, but my Spidey senses told me to steer clear of these listings so I did. A couple of times I added an iffy place to my wish list while scrolling and when I returned later to check it out thoroughly the price had leapt up by 30%.
Not sure what’s happening here but it’s not cool.
Cheeky Hoteliers and the Rise of the Travel Landlords
The entire Delhi catalogue seems to have been monopolised by greedy Indian entrepreneurs and hotels rooms which you could get for a 10th of the price if you walked in off the street.
It seems, there are no truly budget options anymore.
Tourism, the great currency leveller has flattened AirBnB. At least in Delhi. Enterprising Indians have figured out that it’s easier to charge £50 per night and rent the room for 4 weeks per year to an idiot who doesn’t know the price of things than it is to charge £5 per night and get hassled all year round by budget conscious travellers like Navi and I.
I shouldn’t let myself get mad. That’s today’s world.
The speed at which innovative new websites become commercialised and profit driven in 2015 is astounding.
There is a short window at the beginning when there are great deals to be had. Then stakeholders and affiliated businesses read the writing on the wall and start squeezing more and more from the consumers until there is nothing left to be excited about.
AirBnB, I’m sad to say is already on the fast-track to becoming just another holiday booking site.
Lonely Planet Guidebooks
For the moment I don’t think you can beat a good guidebook for researching and booking accommodation. Navi and I use the Lonely Planet guidebooks. We’ve heard some great things about Rough Guide, but we’ve stuck with Lonely Planet more out of nostalgia than anything else.
Lonely Planet has been around since the 70’s. We love the format and it’s always our first starting point when looking at new destinations.
I think one of the reasons it works so well versus the internet is because it presents a limited choice. For most destinations Lonely Planet reviews about 6 places to stay. If I use TripAdvisor to look at a destination, I get hundreds of matches. Many of which have falsely inflated prices, bullshit pictures and fabricated reviews.
Maybe I’m getting old but I just get frustrated sifting through so many choices. I find it much easier to select a place when I’m only given a few options. I also think at some level I’m more likely to feel happier with my selection if chosen from the Lonely Planet.
I guess I trust a big brand more than the internet to give me a good deal.
How quickly did that come full circle?
Once we’d picked a few places from the Lonely Planet we used to cross-check them on TripAdvisor and Booking.com, but we had to stop doing that. There was always at least one terrible review for every place we’ve wanted to stay and we found this kept putting us off.
The places listed in the Lonely Planet may not be the newest or the best but they are usually of a good standard.
When we want to get away from the guidebook we take a Tuc-Tuc to the next town along. We spend a few hours walking into random hotels and guesthouses and haggling prices. Once we find one we like, we head back the following day with our bags in tow.
This tactic works great on long stretches of coastline where the next town or beach is just a few kilometres away.
Online Booking for Budget Travellers
Booking online is becoming the norm. Like it or not, during peak seasons in popular holiday destinations we are going to have to book in advance using the internet.
Airbnb, while not the bargain travel option it was a year ago still offers something unique. We plan to use it again, but only for periods in excess of a month, in order to take advantage of larger discounts.
I realise I can’t swim against the tide, I need to adapt. I have to stay in step with the digital world or I’ll get left behind. I’m simply worried.
I’m frightened that the travel landscape will change so much that there won’t be any room at the inn for budget backpackers.
I’m not ready to get off the merry-go-round just yet. I don’t want to have to plan too far ahead. I don’t want to do it all online. I still want to experience things in the flesh and on the fly. Even if occasionally the experience is disappointing.