Bimble co-founder Francesca Howland talks positivity in an online space

UK: ShortTermRentalz speaks to Francesca Howland, co-founder of Bimble, a London-based app and platform which aims to provide an easy way to collect, remember and share all the places you love, to discuss her business, standing out in the guide market, consumer trust and how travel can come back from the global pandemic. 

  • Please introduce yourself, Bimble and the role the app is playing in the short-term rental and wider travel industry.

“Of course, my name is Francesca Howland and I’m co-founder of Bimble. Bimble is the app for places. It’s like Spotify for placelists. It’s a free travel and lifestyle app for collecting and exchanging lists of great little places to go.

“With Bimble, anybody can collect and save the places they love, or would like to visit in the future, anywhere in the world – but it is also used by hosts and letting managers to create area guides for their properties to share with guests.

“People talk about places all the time, they read about them in articles on and off-line, they share them on social media – but there was no convenient way to collect and store that information before we launched Bimble, so people were resorting to screenshots and iOS notes in an effort to keep track. And scattered information is less likely to turn into a concrete plan.

“When a host makes a Bimble area guide and attaches it to their property listing, it gets people’s attention and attracts guests who can move straight from browsing into planning, by making their own Bimble lists – adding the B&B to their collection, along with places to eat, shop, walk and visit.”

  • How is it different from making area guides in other ways?

“Firstly, other systems offer a traditional one-way process: the host or manager creates an area guide for guests to view in the property.

“Bimble is digital and interactive

  • As a host or manager, you can easily create a Bimble guide that can be shared across all platforms. It’s beautifully designed.
  • Bimble offers an audience of its own – people collecting ideas of places to visit, so it is, in itself, a marketing tool for hosts. We see hundreds of guests clicking to and from individual property Bimbles every month.
  • Because Bimble guest guides are interactive, your guests can create their own lists of places to go in your area by picking some of your recommendations and adding some that they have discovered elsewhere. They can then add comments and share their list with their own friends, spreading the word about your property and your neighbourhood.

“Next, the information that is shared in other systems becomes out-dated. Whereas Bimble pulls information from the internet and stays up-to-date and useful for guests, giving you peace of mind. Guests can access your Bimbles when they are out and about and use the offline feature when connectivity is a problem.

“Finally, Bimble gives guests a much richer experience. When you list the places you recommend, your audience can see opening times for the places, see them on a map, navigate to them, collect them into their own lists and share them with friends.

“Bimble is the app for places, so it is the most natural and logical way for you to share local information. And, it’s free to use!”

  • How would you say your business is being affected by the Covid-19 pandemic?

“At first, we were worried. We had just launched our app in February, so we were banking on people using Bimble to prepare for the summer season and suddenly that seemed very problematic. But actually, within days of lockdown, we started to see usage growing ahead of expectations.

“Clearly, the industry is going through a really tough patch right now – but there are good reasons to feel optimistic. We have seen thousands of people on Bimble, collecting ideas of places to visit once lockdown is over. In a recent study, we found that 24% of adults were spending time thinking about future holidays during isolation. In particular, we can see that millennials are impatient to get out and about in the world. When we polled our community on Bimble, who are predominantly millennials, 59% of them said they would be travelling again as soon as they could.”

  • What was the inspiration for launching Bimble in the first place?

“We love exploring neighbourhoods, going out, travelling and finding the places that locals go to. Great little everyday places are where life happens and memories are made. There’s information about places everywhere: in social media, blogs, guidebooks, conversions with friends – but there was nowhere to collect and store it. There just wasn’t an app for places.

“Airbnb use the slogans “belong anywhere” and “live like a local” and we subscribe wholeheartedly to this approach to travel – but how can visitors belong if they don’t know where the locals go? The B&B gives them a home, a Bimble Area Guide gives them a neighbourhood.”

  • During this lockdown period, how is demand for your services being affected? Are you seeing any surprises / places where demand is spiking at the moment?

“We have seen people making a variety of lists for future holidays: dream lists with ideas for more adventurous and exotic destinations to go to as soon as air travel resumes, but also a proliferation of clear, planning lists for options closer to home for the coming months.

“People are listing independent businesses, little restaurants, bars and coffee shops, as they long for a change of scene and an opportunity to meet up with close friends and family members in less crowded spots. We think this crisis will reinforce the pre-existing trend towards holidaying like a local and away from more touristy type activities.”

  • How do you think community and the element of trust will be important in the growth of the short-term rental industry moving forward? How do apps like your own help to build that?

“A short-term rental property benefits enormously from having attractive little businesses nearby. Guests will actively look for properties which are within easy reach of a lovely place to eat, a great bakery, a vintage clothing store etc. The more places there are to explore, the longer they need to stay to make the most of their visit. So the community around your property is an essential part of your success. But people tend not to wander into local places unless they have been told about them. Your recommendations will be trusted, because you know the area. Therefore, by making a Bimble list, you are building a relationship with your local businesses by sending them customers, whilst giving your guests a much better experience.

“Bimble is not a review site and this is precisely because we know that trust is essential in an online landscape that has been swamped with fake reviews designed to damage competitors. So we designed Bimble as a positive platform: you list places that you like – we call them Bimbleworthy places – and you remove the ones you don’t like, without resorting to negativity. When you invite guests to look at your Bimble area guide, you are bringing them into a community environment built on trust.”

  • Are you seeing any trends for travellers and the length of stays they are looking to book for their dream holiday?

“We can’t directly see the time that people intend to spend away. However, we can assume that longer lists correspond to a longer stay. It looks as though people are looking at staying longer in less places when they go away, rather than skipping from place to place. So that corresponds to less geographical ground covered, but more in-depth exploration of a particular area.”

  • What challenges and opportunities do you see for the future of travel once the coronavirus starts to recede?

“I feel totally confident that the short lets market will bounce back and continue to grow. It fits with the way that people want to explore the world – living, briefly, in another place. Travel, for millennials and GenZ is much more about rich experience and other lifestyles than it is about visiting famous landmarks.

“The challenge, therefore, is to cope with the short term crisis. We may see a shift towards domestic travel in the immediate future but this could actually benefit the short term rentals market.

“Also, we are not alone in expecting that more people will continue to work virtually than before. This creates an interesting opportunity for more people to travel whilst working. It will make sense for hosts to advertise their remote working facilities such as the quality of their internet connection and a good desk and chair.”