After a week of staying at Airbnbs in Tokyo, it’s clear what is the biggest benefit a host can offer: a mobile wifi dongle. Hosts (and traditional hotels) around the world would do well to have them. I would probably even pay more to stay at a place that had one (just not more than my international roaming fee).
Obviously everyone consumes data everywhere. Phone companies charge a lot of money for not much data when traveling overseas. In Japan having access to data is particularly important due to the number of, dare we say, necessary interactions one needs to have with the internet: menu translations, streets with no discernable signs or even names, train schedules of titanic proportions. I don’t how much data I consumed before sending photos of the multiple sake tastings we did and I don’t want to. (I also don’t know how any foreign tourist navigated Japan before the internet.)
Many Airbnb listings in Tokyo advertise “mobile wifi” as part of their offer and for many visitors, not having one would probably be a dealbreaker. This was my first Airbnb experience so I don’t know if this is commonplace in other countries. A quick scan of apartments for a random weekend in New York City does not return mobile wifi as an amenity anywhere. I would suspect this is the norm, at least in the US.
Perhaps there’s an element of trust Japanese hosts have place in their visitors. Crime in Japan is extremely low so the idea that the dongle would be stolen by a guest seems a remote possibility. In other places, including the US, trepidation likely reigns. Until they become commonplace, however, we’ll never know.
Regardless, having the ability to use my phone at any (and all) times in Tokyo without having to think about possible fee overages or service outages added to the overall enjoyability of my trip. Coming home to a gigantic bill has ruined previous trips of mine. Not getting service overseas even though I’ve paid for it (or not paid for it back when I had T-Mobile) is equally frustrating. The mobile wifi provided by the hosts solved these problems (at one place the dongle doubled as the unit’s actual wifi connection). Simply, it was one less thing to worry about on vacation.
This may be an untapped market for mobile service providers. In Japan, both places’ provided Yahoo!’s Y! Mobile internet. In the US, for example, all the major carriers have mobile hotspot products and services but do not appear to be targeting Airbnb hosts as a segment. Given the American providers’ scale perhaps they could negotiate on volume (or insurance) enough to make the threat of theft irrelevant to customers. And, obviously, create plans that are attractive to Airbnb hosts (or does their implicit endorsement of Airbnb put them in some kind of legal/regulatory bind?) Surely foreign visitors to the US would appreciate having this amenity.
Airbnb hosts everywhere should take note. Having a great apartment is nice. Being in a great location is even better. Increasingly, though, neither of these matter if I have a terrible experience because I can’t get online. Yet again, the Japanese are ahead of the game when it comes to technology that makes a difference