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Long gone are the days of simply searching out the most convenient and cost-effective hotel to lay your head at night. Now, there is an array of accommodation options available to the modern traveller – everything from private holiday rentals to a stranger’s living room couch.
Leading the pack in person-to-person lodging is Airbnb. Born out of San Francisco in 2008, Airbnb is a ‘trusted community marketplace for people to list, discover, and book unique accommodation around the world’. Despite having fallen subject to legal action in NYC under the 2011 short-term rental law, Airbnb has gone from strength-to-strength. The booking service puts travellers in touch with locals renting out available space – from spare bedrooms and flats to the humble 5-star treehouse (not even kidding…).
Airbnb isn’t the only one revolutionising the accommodation experience. Couchsurfing.org came onto the scene in 2004 and built a community of 9 million people from 120,000 cities who were willing to open their homes to travellers in need of a couch to sleep on for the night (ie. ‘surf’). Unlike Airbnb, no money changes hands between hosts and their guests. Instead, surfers and couch owners are asked to review each other to keep the community as trustworthy as possible. Surfers are then encouraged to return the favour by making their own couches available.
This ‘sharing economy’ is leaving traditional accommodation providers quivering in their boots as cheaper, more convenient and culturally unique options become available to travellers. But with no concierge to check-in with or hotel manager to report to, what do you do if something goes wrong? And are you covered by your insurance if it does?
The short answer is ‘yes’, you are covered. Person-to-person lodging and private rental services are still considered to be ‘accommodation’ by travel insurance providers. Therefore, the likes of cancellations, personal belongings and personal liability are covered. However, just like traditional hotels, the onus is still on travellers to show care in protecting themselves and their belongings. “We recommend people take the same precautions as they would using any type of accommodation on a trip,” Airbnb says. “That is, use common sense when looking after valuables, take out travel insurance and check the policy details for any exceptions that might apply.”
Airbnb enforce three standardised cancellation policies to protect both hosts and guests from changing their plans on a whim. Airbnb ensure guests receive a refund based on which cancellation policy the host has chosen for the listing. As Airbnb is considered pre-booked accommodation, your travel insurance policy covers the value of the unused arrangement if you end up out of pocket following an insured event (e.g. you may fall seriously ill and have to cancel your trip; this pre-paid accommodation is covered for any amounts you are not refunded by the host).
If you’ve rented out the entire house and you or your travelling party are the only guests, the house isn’t considered to be a ‘public place’ as you’re not sharing it with anyone. Therefore, your personal belongings are covered if something were to happen to them while inside the property, so as long as you’re doing your due diligence to keep them safe.
However, you might choose to rent one room of a house where there are other guests also staying. This is considered to be a guest house or hotel (a ‘public place’), just like when you stay at a traditional commercial ‘Bed n Breakfast’ where there are multiple guests staying on the premises. In this case, your belongings need to be inside your locked room for cover to apply.
Spill a glass of red wine on your host’s Persian carpet? Never fear – you are covered by Personal Liability in the event that something accidentally happens during your stay. Where things get a bit tricky is whether the host’s home insurance covers share accommodation. We will cover your medical costs if you break your ankle on the living room stairs. However, loss of enjoyment and future earnings loss would be on the home owner, so, before arranging your stay, it is worth checking with the property owner to learn if their home insurance covers share accommodation.
You arrive at the Parisian apartment you booked on Airbnb, fully expecting a first-rate view of the Eiffel Tower and the gorgeous interiors which really sold it to you in the photos. Except what you find is a dump with lumpy mattresses and some pretty shoddy plumbing. Unfortunately, deciding your accommodation is not up to scratch isn’t covered by your travel insurance. This is where it’s important to do plenty of research beforehand and to rely on Airbnb and Couchsurfing.org’s rigorous review system to inform your decision. Don’t be afraid to reach out to Airbnb if you rock up at your booked apartment and are unsatisfied by what you find behind the door.
Read the reviews from other people who have stayed at the property and be critical of the host’s photos. Does it look too good to be true? Is there a picture of the Eiffel Tower in the background despite the fact that the apartment is listed in NYC? Research the surrounding area – never has there been a better time to make use of Google Maps Street View.
Seek answers to your questions before you confirm your booking. Is the host’s home insured for share accommodation? How long have they been in the area? Is there access to transport nearby?
With no front desk to ask for assistance, the onus is on you to be prepared. Downloading the Tripwise travel app can provide some helpful tips for travelling around your destination, as well as contact details for the nearest embassy or emergency service.
If you arrive at your Airbnb booking, or rock up to the couch you’re surfing, and feel a bit unsure about the area or your host, don’t be afraid to make other arrangements. Contact Airbnb and seek guidance from them on what your other options are. If it comes down to booking into a hotel for the night, or feeling unsafe, a hotel with a helpful front desk comes out trumps.
*This is a summary of the cover provided. Read the TID PDS for the full terms, conditions, limitations and exclusions that apply.
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