It’s near impossible to write about AirBNB and Uber without getting a little gushy with grattitude. Single handedly these two world changing businesses, locked within their paralell evolution have reconstructed the business-travel world into something beautiful, simple and extraordinary.
Business travel used to involve the same mindnumbinly, soul erodingly, boring, template of cheap-to-book hotel rooms with those hard mattresses practically vacuum wrapped in starchy bed sheets; showers and bathrooms that are always a little disappointing and the promise that every other room looks and feels exactly the same.
Oh, and the transport? Taxis. Don’t get me started on taxis. I’ve travelled with them all. The rude, spittle flinging taxi drivers of Central London, the crazy, wild eyed taxi drivers of Bengal and the gun toting, sandal wearing, whistling informal taxi drivers of South Africa. There are no promises here and when in London I actually witnessed a taxi driver lean out of his cab window on Baker Street and spit at someone I concluded I shouldn’t expect any.
As a product of my environment this meant a constant undercurrent of stress, anxiety and a deep seated terror of amber lights.
ENTER UBER AND AIRBNB
I was introduced and experienced Uber and Airbnb at the same time and honestly thought they were run by the same company.. Despite my previous commentary on business travel, I do love it, I love new cities, new people, learning about new cultures and trying new food and alcohol but the abovementioned always made me relieved to come home.
Barcelona was my first tasting. An Uber driver picked me up from the airport in a slick black saloon, so clean and polished that it looked days old and turned heads of everyone waiting outside the airport or shovelling bags into their taxis. The Driver stepped out, a very well groomed man in a black suit, black tie with shoes polished to match his car. He asked quickly if I preferred English or Spanish and when I admitted to the former, he went on in accented but beautiful english. He put my bags in the boot of his car (when he opened the boot it smelt of strawberries) and opened my door for me. Inside, the car was not clean, it was cleaned, this was the cleaning that happens when someone is dedicated. There wasn’t even the questionable lint under the seats, this car had been cleaned within an inch of its life for my benefit.
“Would you like some music or water Captain?” The Driver asked politely, “I have a selection of both.”
I through a curve ball here and asked him if he had any Nickelback- something I’ve learnt not to ask in a taxi (whatever Chad Kroeger has done to taxi drivers must be truly dastardly); a moment later I had to choose from which album. I went oldschool, Silver Side Up. I also took up his offer of water and spent the remainder of the trip staring out the window and feeling like I was in my own music video.
We arrived at the address of my Airbnb, the eighth floor apartment of a Spanish businessman overlooking Barcelona’s main plaza and just a stone throw away from the La Sagrada Familia Cathedral. I took one of those rickety elevators with the cage doors that passed through the centre of a spiral staircase leading up and found myself in an apartment.
Most of Spain has a great approach to architecture, the ceilings are high, the doors and windows are tall and the floors are tiled to allow for air circulation and to keep things cool during their brutal summers. For a man of my height it’s a godsend; the bed was large and comfortable with a mattress that probably cost three times as much as the ones you’ll find in a branded, franchised hotel room. The view was spectacular, the kitchen tiny but stocked with a fridge filled with local beers, the wifi was free and always on, there was a map showing me all the best places to get to for food and groceries during my stay that wouldn’t involve me getting lost and there was beer in the fridge. Let me say that one more time, beer in the fridge.
The owner of the apartment a man named Carlos let me in and showed me around his home. He explained that it was his bachelor’s pad and that he had to move out when he got married but had held onto this place on the hope his marriage might fall apart. After twelve years he said that was unlikely and he had been planning to sell his beloved “Pad” when Airbnb was created and he found he could make money by people enjoy it.
“I get to choose who stays here,” he said in accented English, “I can see you’ll be the sort who’ll love it.”
He showed me the balcony and said, “Here is a great place to bring a lady at sunset,” he said wisely, “There is beer and wine in the fridge, you can get anything you need at the store on the roadside tell the owner that Carlos sent you.”
He also had a warning, “But don’t let them think you own the place or else you’ll end up with a wife.”
Carlos left me his number should there be any emergencies and then I drifted around in the lap of luxury for the remainder of the day. The next morning I used Uber (Uber Black) to get to my meetings and was consistently and suitably impressed and afterwards I spent a wonderful evening in Barcelona before retiring to an apartment that I felt was my own.
Both Uber and Airbnb have been around for years now and are very well established businesses that have proven their place in the travel and hospitality world and given everyone the chance to enjoy a “higher” style of travel. The affect this has had on business people and holidaymakers alike is noticeable and has put hotels and taxi companies under serious pressure to compete.
Considering that I have down work on my laptop, while lying in a hammock in the open air roof top cinema of a penthouse overlooking Cape Town’s Green Market Square for the same price per night as I’d pay for a London Travel Lodge, I can’t see how they’re going to manage it.
And who can beat having a chauffer at the call of a button.
That’s it, love note complete. Get the apps, you’ll love them.