With its debut in 2008, Airbnb changed the travel industry forever. Suddenly travelers had the ability to stay at a variety of local homes during their vacations. Homes that were authentic, stocked with kitchen items, and nestled in real neighborhoods to make guests feel at home while on vacation. Through word of mouth, travelers began to trust the new service more and more. There was an uptick of usage, and for the first few years it seemed like the company’s “too-good-to-be-true” business model really was true.
But the façade started to crack early, with stories of bad experiences surfacing on Twitter and in the news. If an Airbnb horror story hasn’t happened to you, maybe you know someone who’s been unlucky once or twice. While Airbnb truly can be a unique way to travel, there are some downsides to booking vacation rentals that all travelers should be aware of before booking an Airbnb.
Airbnb Horror Stories
Time magazine reported that staying in an Airbnb can be risky for your safety, saying “many Airbnb properties do not contain safety equipment including smoke detectors, carbon monoxide (CO) detectors, fire extinguishers, and first aid kits, potentially putting guests at risk in the event of an emergency.” When you rent a place, you’re assuming it is safe, secure, and regulated. But that assumption can’t be made with Airbnb because of the lack of oversight from anyone other than the homeowner.
In this chilling story of an Airbnb rental in Texas, the author’s father died when the Airbnb’s advertised rope swing snapped in two. The article points out that if the Airbnb’s owners had opted to register as a more traditional B&B, they would have had to pass rigorous safety checks and other regulations. Texas Bed and Breakfast Association’s executive director Connie Hall remarked:
“For new [Texas Bed and Breakfast Association] members, they are inspected with an overnight stay, and then every two years, our properties are inspected, covering everything from cleanliness to decor, and ensuring that individual rooms have a deadbolt, smoke detectors are functioning, and landscaping seems safe. As far as the safety stuff, it’s mandatory for our members that they meet all these criteria.”
Official B&Bs and hotels are standardized for safety, but Airbnbs and other rentals-by-owner are not. Stories like this one are hopefully rare, but truly haunting.
On top of the safety concerns, there has been an uptick in hidden security cameras found in Airbnb rentals. Airbnb allows hosts to have cameras in public spaces, like living rooms, but they’re not allowed anywhere guests are sleeping or in any bathrooms. Furthermore, any camera in an Airbnb must be disclosed, even in public spaces. Despite these policies, guests have reported finding undisclosed cameras in bedrooms and bathrooms. Even if these cameras are reported to Airbnb staff, the footage is almost never recovered, and Airbnb as a company has no control over it.
One woman sued Airbnb after finding hidden cameras in her rental, citing her fear that “images of her exist in electronic form and could make their way onto the internet or some other medium.” The Atlantic reported on Airbnb’s hidden camera problem and how they’ve attempted to fix it, but with thin results.
Perhaps more prominent than safety or privacy concerns are the concerns over an Airbnb listing being illegitimate and/or not meeting the expectations as sold on the site. One Airbnb user reported that he arrived at his Airbnb after hours of unsuccessful communication with his host. The home was nothing like the photos he had seen. There was no furniture, no bed, no sheets, and no towels in the bathroom. When he contacted Airbnb support staff about the issue, they promised to get him a local hotel room. However, that too went unfulfilled. He remarked:
“I had to sleep on the floor. In a cold empty house, with only a blanket of unknown cleanliness. No furniture at all. Plus, I’m dealing with too many people here like you at Airbnb; you’re the third one now. What happened to your promise to call me back last night to get me a local hotel?”
In the end, Airbnb refused to refund him for the night, claiming that since he did indeed stay at the home, they could only refund him $30.
Another story published on Vice.com, recounts a thorough investigation that the author went on after being scammed out of $1,220 from an Airbnb disaster in Chicago. His research led him to numerous other travelers who were also scammed by the same source: a rental company who set up phony host profiles on Airbnb with names like “Becky and Andrew,” “Kris and Becky,” “Annie and Chase,” etc. In each story that Vice uncovered, guests had been scammed into losing hundreds of dollars on their rentals when the host called minutes before check-in and claimed that the property was un-rentable because of plumbing issues.
These stories are infuriating, but the worst part seems to be Airbnb’s lack of enforcement against scammers like this. Airbnb’s weak host verification process allows for scammers to weed their way into the system, polluting the experience for well-intentioned travelers. Vice spoke with the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy, who had also done research attempting to catch and prevent Airbnb scammers in the LA region:
“Airbnb does no checking up on this whatsoever. They’re one of the most sophisticated companies in the world, and you’re telling me they can’t come up with a system that prevents this? Airbnb is doing that hand-wavy thing that tech companies do where they say, ‘We can’t solve this.’ If they wanted to solve it, they would figure it out.”
The Root of Airbnb’s Problems
The common thread across all of these stories is that Airbnb as a company does not have control over your experience. They don’t visit properties to confirm if they meet a certain standard. They can’t ensure that your rental is safe, secure, private, or even in line with the photos in the listing. They’re merely a middleman broker between you and the property owner, brushing off the liability and the responsibility.
In the event of a bad Airbnb experience, you may file a complaint. However, even if they agree that your experience was in violation of their policies, the best that they can do is refund you. Airbnb is reactive, solving problems as they come up instead of maintaining a foolproof system ahead of time to make sure you have a good experience.
This article from Inc. magazine also illuminates why some of these bad experiences keep happening. It boils down to peer pressure to leave a positive review. “The same real-name policy that causes people to trust Airbnb’s reviews in the first place is what makes people reluctant to leave a terrible review,” says Jeff Bercovici in the article. Especially when you meet your host face to face, there is social pressure to give them the benefit of the doubt and not leave a review that would effectively end their business. This causes reviews that may not reveal the whole truth about a guest’s experience, resulting in potentially recurring bad experiences.
When they came on the scene, travel industry disruptors like Airbnb and Uber caught like wildfire. The more people used them, the more the word spread. Soon people forgot that we ever did things a different way. But now, we’re coming out of the honeymoon phase. With increasing claims of assault against Uber and Lyft drivers and more reports of unsafe conditions, hidden cameras, and listing scams, it’s starting to seem like the old way might have been better, and safer, after all.
You might pay a little more for a traditional taxi or a hotel room, but you’re paying for a vetted, safe, regulated service. If you have a bad experience, there are real consequences for the driver or the hotel manager. Cab medallions are revoked ensuring that your experience won’t happen to another passenger, and hotels have systems in place to prevent problems and solve them quickly. Hotels also have onsite staff 24/7 to resolve potential problems.
But what about the money that can be saved by renting an Airbnb? If you want the savings of Airbnbs, along with the safety and security of trusted hotel chains, search for your next stay on roomkey.com. You can see all your hotel options in one place, so you can find the best fit for your trip. Plus, you’ll be able to browse low loyalty member pricing, a sure way to save you money on your next hotel stay.
When you search through Roomkey, you’ll book directly with the hotel. You’ll have immediate and direct access to hotel staff for all your concerns and customer service needs. No Airbnb horror stories here! Try Roomkey. No tricks. Just travel.
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