Most of us have either taken a chance ourselves, or know others who have, on booking somewhere to stay without being entirely confident about what we’re going to find.
I myself booked a room for a couple of nights in Barcelona not that long ago, through one of the biggest online travel agencies. I did all the research I could. I studied various hotel pictures, I looked for all the important things – a decent looking shower, comfortable beds, good-quality bedding, and a window not facing straight onto a wall – and pressed the button to book, feeling fairly sure my family and I would have a perfectly good stay.
Unfortunately, what I felt was deliberately hidden in the small print was that the room shown was ‘for illustrative purposes only’, and there was no guarantee that the room we would be allocated would be ‘exactly’ the same.
It was shocking! A tiny, dark, damp basement room with mean little windows, a shower attachment hanging over a tired bath and beds I knew we just couldn’t sleep in. More alarmingly, it was not even in the location that was advertised. And I felt utterly cheated – me, someone working in the industry, someone who researches every last detail, someone who even used to inspect hotels for the star rating system, had failed. Because I had had confidence in making a booking on an industry-leading website offering pictures and a customer service phone number.
In much the same way, the sharing economy platforms present everything in easily-browsed, picture-led websites, lots of promises of one-click booking and free cancellation. And nobody can deny that Airbnb and the like have opened consumers’ eyes to the possibility of booking outside the traditional hotel space, helping them see the value in being able to lie in without having to vacate for housekeeping, cook or relax in a more homely living space, and truly ‘live like a local’.
But last week the UK All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Tourism finally released its findings on the sharing economy, raising fears around guest safety, disruption on nearby residents, and the effect on local housing stock.
They worried that hosts were allowed to list on homesharing platforms even if they didn’t tick the ‘fire extinguisher available’ box, and that addresses were only disclosed after a firm booking had been made and money had exchanged hands.
While appreciating that Airbnb and other sharing sites are on target to bring in £30bn for the UK economy by 2025, they also highlighted that 40% of the almost 68,000 listings in London were offered by hosts with more than one property – and in many cases, by professional landlords effectively running them as businesses outside any regulation – far away the concept of renting your spare bedroom to a stranger, to make a little extra income.
On the back of this, the report also stated that all hospitality providers should share equal opportunities, a level playing field, as it were. And that sharing economy platforms must develop procedures so that hosts have, at the very least, undertaken fire safety and health and safety assessments, and should not be allowed to register properties without proof of these.
And – significantly – that sharing economy accreditation schemes should be rolled out across all properties, on all sharing economy platforms, to inform consumers of quality standards.
Once again, the serviced apartment sector can proudly set itself apart. Not only do we, as a professional sector, have the consumer’s best interests at heart; but here at ASAP, as the trade body, we offer Quality Accreditation for operators, members – and even buildings.
And we are supremely proud that very soon all members of the Association will have achieved Quality Accredited status.
We’re all consumers ourselves in one way or another. And while the APPG has officially recognised that the sharing economy has its place in the scheme of things, it also sees that it operates relatively unchecked. Guests need assurance that if they book any type of accommodation, anywhere, their safety is not as risk. And if they book an Airbnb stay, someone, somewhere, has given at least a passing thought for their wellbeing.
At ASAP, we are proud to support the serviced apartment industry. And, as the body bringing quality assurance to this fast-growing part of the hospitality space, we are proud to have been instrumental in ensuring consumers who book with our accredited members can be confident their accommodation will meet consistently high standards of quality, safety and service.
James Foice, ASAP CEO
We are delighted that ASAP Quality Accredited Members support the findings and the ASAP scheme.
George Westwell, director of luxury London based serviced apartment specialist Cheval Residences, commented: ‘We are delighted that parliamentary approval for the need for quality accreditation within the sharing economy has been recognised and Cheval Residences fully endorses the accreditation process. As part of The Association of Serviced Apartment Providers, we have been rigorously assessed and all of our London properties meet the 250 service quality, regulatory and safety criteria made to ensure we operate a robust and fully compliant serviced apartment business. We comply with all the key legal, statutory and health and safety requirements, we are marketing all our properties accurately and we deliver a quality experience so that our guests can stay with us with confidence.’