Airbnb hosts should have to test drive the getaways they're offering

Here's why (Spoiler alert: directions and decent showers would be nice)

17 January 2021 - 00:02 By and ndumiso ngcobo
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Image: Aardwolf

One of the most meaningless and annoying buzz phrases of the past 10 months has been the "new normal". It reminds me of a similarly meaningless phrase from the '90s, "New World Order".

It's become a family tradition that towards the end of December we pack up and head out of the city or the country for a week or so. This time around we agonised about the wisdom of going anywhere. In the end, we decided quite late in the day that we would not survive the cumulative psychological effects of cabin fever from the year if we stayed put.

We decided to take a "calculated risk" and book the family into a remote farm in the armpit of the land. We settled on a farm cottage in a place I'd never heard of called Tonteldoos, about 45 minutes' driving from Dullstroom.

Here, I must interrupt myself to point out that Airbnb is an inspired idea. I don't know why I didn't think of it myself. The idea of folks with spaces they are not using just opening them up to people needing to crash for a little while is ingenious.

I have always experienced the app from a guest's perspective, seeing as I am not a host. And it's a very, very good thing that I am not. I do more than my fair of travelling, but, I would suck as a host. And this is the mistake that many people make. Understanding what it takes to run a good holiday cottage does not necessary mean that you should do it.

While driving to Tonteldoos, I called our host. As an afterthought he asked us what kind of vehicle we were driving. It is at this point that he revealed that there was a 20-minute drive on a Paris-to-Dakar-type gravel road leading to the place. Fortunately for us the AmaQadi ancestors had whispered to us to drive there in an SUV. As rubbish as I think I'd be at this Airbnb hosting gig, I'd probably insert this bit in BOLD CAPS in the descriptor on the app.

By the time we had navigated the gravel road and reached Tonteldoos it was dusk. And we got lost. With the Waze app on. Fearing inadvertently ending up at the Beitbridge border post we attempted to call the host. It was at this point that we became aware of the abysmal network reception in the area.

At the 15th attempt we got hold of him. He was extremely sympathetic, albeit quite perplexed at just how we could have been lost. It is at this point that an epiphany hit me: this man has never test-driven what he is offering his guests. He has lived in the area for years but has never attempted to experience it the way someone going there for the very first time would. All he could offer was, "Everyone else gets here just fine."

By the second day we had christened the shower 'No Compromise'. You were either standing under a larva waterfall or participating in the ice-bucket challenge

If I ever lost my marbles and decided to get into the Airbnb business, it would be critical for me to experience my own place as if I'm a guest. If my host had performed this simple task he would know that the signs he has put up (after the turn that Waze missed) are invisible after dusk.

If he had ever stayed at his own cottage he would know that taking a shower in there is not for the faint-hearted or members of Homo sapiens with functional skin receptors. By the second day we had christened the shower "No Compromise". You were either standing under a lava waterfall or participating in the ice-bucket challenge.

Of course, this was music to the ears of two teenage boys with a natural aversion to water unless they're drinking it. After two days I walked into the bathroom and discovered that their washing rags were so dry and stiff you could use them as sandpaper.

Lastly, if I ran a holiday farm cottage in the Limpopo hinterland, I would warn my trigger-happy neighbours that there might be sporadic sightings of darker-hued individuals on the walking trail that goes past their properties. Especially during these tense times.

It would have saved the missus, my two bespectacled sons and my own four-eyed self the unpleasantness of being accosted by a twitchy, nervous Gerhardus (not his name) while taking a walk, inquiring what we were doing there. Look, it didn't help that one of the boys was wearing a red T-shirt and I was wearing red sneakers.

But all things considered, I had a peaceful vacation in Tonteldoos and I return to this space quite rested, within "the new normal". However, if you're performing a search for a place to stay on Airbnb, and you come across my profile as a host, I would steer clear of it.

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