This travel site review of Wimdu is the first in an occasional series of reviews of websites covering our interests here on Grantourismo – local travel, slow and sustainable travel, experiential travel, and the idea of ‘giving back’ when we travel.
The market for holiday rentals appears to be booming and Berlin-based start-up Wimdu has entered a somewhat crowded market catering for those who want to rent a room, an apartment or a house.
While the big hitter in the market is currently HomeAway (with whom we did our 2010 Grand Tour project), Wimdu is covering all the bases with offerings from rooms to houses, thereby being a bit like a cross between Roomorama and HomeAway.
Language that is familiar to readers of this blog, terms like ‘home away from home’, ‘travel like a local’ and ‘an authentic and memorable experience’, are used on the site with abandon to target travellers like you and us. But does the site live up to these expectations and what does Wimdu offer that Roomorama, Airbnb, VRBO and HomeAway don’t?
The Wimdu site is very clean and very easy to use, with essential information ‘above the fold’. You’ll get an odd PR blurb in tiny type about Wimdu and read the local travel lingo as you scroll down, but all that you need to get started is right there at the top of the page.
While I was initially amused by the sample entries in the “e.g. Berlin, Manhattan, Eiffel Tower” (we were unaware you could stay in the Eiffel Tower), impressively the listings came up very quickly. Incidentally, while typing in ‘Eiffel Tower’ did bring a result with some listings nearby, a similar search brought up nothing for ‘Sydney Opera House’.
As we had difficulty finding a property in Tokyo (pictured above) on HomeAway in 2010, we thought we’d use the city as a test to find an apartment or house on Wimdu. HomeAway (UK) only returned 14 results, while Wimdu returned a result of 16. Roomorama had a staggering 591 apartments listed, while Airbnb had 85 and VRBO returned 6 results.
While it’s interesting that Wimdu is trying to personalise the results with photos of the owners of the property and the ability to ask the owner questions via a messaging system, I don’t really feel confident about sending questions about a property to an avatar of a cat or a sunset or an, umm, avatar, when owners don’t want to upload their own photo. It’s a great idea that adds a human dimension to the booking experience, but it’s obviously hard to police. We’d encourage Wimdu to try to persuade owners to use their own photos.
For Berlin (where Wimdu is based), the service fared far better, with over 1,000 apartments listed. Roomorama had 248 listings, HomeAway (UK) 927, Airbnb boasted a massive 3551 listings, and VRBO had just a few dozen results. It’s fair to say from this and other cities we looked at that some services are stronger in some markets, but Wimdu is generally doing well for a recent addition to the market.
It appears that something that is also hard to police is the quality of photos that people upload to show off their property. This is a problem for all sites in this market, however, so we’re somewhat forgiving. However, Wimdu impressively claims to check every property (something others sites don’t do), so why not have the inspectors spend an additional 15 minutes taking better photos of the properties?
Sending in inspectors to look at properties is a unique selling point and an important means of differentiating Wimdu from its competitors. While HomeAway is essentially an online rental classified service, Wimdu is claiming that like good hotel booking sites like Mr and Mrs Smith and i-escape, each property is individually checked.
This is something that we always felt that HomeAway should have undertaken, perhaps charging a premium for properties that are ‘vetted’ by an inspection team. While guest comments can be useful to potential renters, one only has to spend some time on TripAdvisor to see how the white noise can deafen any really useful data.
Another area where Wimdu differs is that of booking guarantees and cancellation policies. Wimdu only transfers your payment to the host 24 hours after you have checked in – and they insure you for free.
With HomeAway, you pay the owners direct and they advise that you “ensure you always call the number published on the HomeAway.co.uk property listing and confirm your payment details prior to making any payment”. If you do this, “HomeAway.co.uk guarantees your payment for free for up to 50% of the rental fee you paid, up to a maximum of £700 if you follow the recommendations listed above”.
HomeAway not being involved in the rental transaction is a fundamental difference between it and Wimdu’s service. Given that we personally know people who have lost their entire deposit using HomeAway due to a phishing problem, we think the Wimdu solution is better.
It will be interesting to see in the future whether the classified system (charging people to have a listing) versus charging a percentage of the booking will prevail or whether the two will co-exist.
Wimdu is a very worthy contender in the holiday rental space and they’re off to a brilliant start. We obviously love the philosophy of the company, but would like to see them make things a little more personal concerning the property owners and the quality of the property images if they really want to differentiate themselves in a crowded market.
We intend to post similar reviews of sites and apps we use from time to time when we get the urge. They will be sites related to our interests of slow and sustainable travel, local travel and living like locals, experiential travel, and ‘giving back’. We won’t, for instance, review a hostel booking site as we don’t stay at hostels. If there’s something you’d like us to test out and review for you, let us know in the comments below.