Why Airbnb customer frustrations may mean the service is dying
With rising cleaning fees, a dizzying list of “house rules,” and growing complaints from hosts and guests alike, the Airbnb experience seems far from perfect these days.
Once upon a time, or at least several years ago, Airbnb was all about the spirit of travel. Launched as a vacation rental company in 2008, it had become a major player in the travel space, giving major hotel brands a run for their money. These days, an Airbnb stay can come with expensive cleaning fees and a slippery guest experience that has left most travelers tired of the once-popular home-sharing platform.
“I’m done with Airbnb,” the comedian, model and activist wrote Caleb Hearon on his Twitter account back in June. Citing house confinement rules — such as curfews, quiet hours and chore lists — Hearon wrote that he would likely revert to booking hotel stays. Soon her tweet took off, garnering some 440,000 likes and 32,000 retweets, sparking a deluge of stories from fellow travelers sympathizing to their own Airbnb horror stories.
When Tawny “My name is Tawny” Newsome (@TrondyNewman) responded to Hearon’s tweet by recounting how a delivery person was kicked out of his Airbnb due to a “no-guest” policy, Hearon explained his grievances.
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“I stayed in a [Airbnb] recently where they INSTRUCTED me to take out my trash, do my dishes and water the plants. I’m going back to the Hilton; these people have lost their minds.
The appeal of an Airbnb has always been the promise of staying somewhere that feels like home at a fraction of the cost of booking a hotel room. travel data company Overview OTA looked at the summer occupancy of short-term rentals versus hotels in major global destinations, comparing 2019 to 2022. They found that hotels still lag short-term rentals, albeit in the Together, the two come back very strong compared to 2019.
According to Dr. Terika Haynes, Founder and CEO of Dynamite trip— a Florida-based luxury travel consultancy — Airbnb originally appealed as a “private vacation experience at lower costs than hotels.”
“As Airbnb has become more popular,” says Haynes Fodor’s“hosts didn’t need to be so ‘desperate’, if you will. The higher the demand, the pickier they can be and the more demands they can make. But Haynes, who has worked with thousands customers since Dynamite launched nearly 15 years ago, points out that over the years, prices, now influenced by the cost of living and labor shortages such as cleaning staff, have increase.
The skyrocketing cost of Airbnb stays
A June 2022 analysis by a personal finance company NerdWallet found that a sample of 1,000 Airbnb reservations across the United States were more expensive than hotels for one-night stays. The median hotel room per night in the US was $178 compared to the Airbnb median of $314 including taxes and fees for both. Hotels were cheaper for two people, the analysis notes.
A particular sticking point with Airbnb guests these days is cleaning fees. According to NerdWallet, Airbnb’s median cleaning fee for one night was $75, and 34% of bookings had cleaning fees between 20% and 29.99% of the list price. Airbnb points out that hosts can choose their own cleaning fees, and the platform offers tips on a reasonable amount and would suggest that they consider no fees at all. But complaints about customers having to do “chores” alongside rising cleaning fees are now also common. Replies to Hearon’s tweet included accounts of guests claiming they were ordered to take out trash, vacuum, carry patio chairs, clean up and put kitchen utensils back in his cabinet . Understandably, travelers forced to pay cleaning fees and be handed a list of cleaning tasks are frustrated.
“A Baltimore townhouse wanted food to be prepared in a very particular way,” recalls Ryan Wright, an Airbnb user from Canada. “A country house near South Bend had oddly specific recycling and laundry rules. I’ve yet to stay at an Airbnb that doesn’t have at least one rule that makes me laugh or shake my head.”
Another traveler – who preferred to remain anonymous – describes herself as someone who leaves hotel rooms as clean as possible, making sure to collect towels and tip cleaning staff. But in recent years, even she has found Airbnb’s house rules too demanding.
“I don’t expect to go and trash a place and leave,” the traveler explained. “But the lists of rules — what lights can be on, don’t use a specific room, don’t park near ‘Donna’s car next door’ — are the main reason my family and I overcame the novelty. from Airbnb and now sticking to hotels.
Horrible service at both ends
Along with rising costs, Airbnb safety and security questions raised more than a few eyebrows, while the challenges posed by COVID-19 left travelers wondering about the future of the platform. Stories about Airbnb stays, detailing horrific experiences on both guest and host side, have been circulating online. A host said Fodor’s that they abandoned Airbnb after a guest damaged its walls, used their address to register for a vehicle, complained about the heating, urinated in the bed, stole a mini-fridge and vomited in the sink , to name but a few transgressions. Although she admits she’s had some “great guests” over the years, she says she wouldn’t recommend Airbnb again. “It’s terrible service from both sides.”
Stories abound of guests damaging a host’s property, while guests complain about rigid house rules that interfere with their vacation. But perhaps these regulations are necessary, suggests Juls Rollnik, the author of Secrets of a Superhost: How to Become an Airbnb Rockstar, who says people are much happier if they have clear guidelines. “If there are no limits on what people can and cannot do in your Airbnb, guests won’t know what’s allowed and they could damage your property or cause you trouble.”
Airbnb’s new competitors
In response, Airbnb points out that they hosted a billion guests to date and that complaints are rare. They highlight the range of new safety and security options on offer, including a 24 hour security line available in the app for hosts and guests, a Local emergency services in-app functionality, and that they enforce strict policies and have initiatives such as a Trust and Security Advisory Coalition (TSAC)bringing together 22 organizations including the British Alliance for Trust and Security. But in the new era of post-pandemic travel, alternatives to Airbnb and hotels are starting to appear in response to growing dissatisfaction around Airbnb.
Kinshipa home exchange network, was unveiled in April 2022 by Justine Palefsky and Tasneem Amina as an alternative to “increasingly unaffordable Airbnb and hotel options” in hopes of addressing the rise of remote workers. For an annual fee of $300, Kindred members in the United States, Canada, and Mexico can reserve a home, paying only the cost of cleaning and a $30 service fee per night. Concierge service and “guest protection” are included. Members earn credits for making their home available online and can apply those credits to their own trip. The founders claim it’s “a fraction of the cost of a typical vacation rental.”
“Many members mentioned feeling frustrated with Airbnb’s increasingly unreasonable prices and fees, and how transactional it feels as most homes are run like businesses instead of feeling like real homes. “, says Palefsky. “We have also heard growing concerns about the impact this proliferation of short-term rentals is having on communities.”
She added that Airbnb is “increasingly focused on profits at the expense of quality of experience, but this creates an opening for competition.” Palefsky says that when the “category leader begins to charge exorbitant prices for a declining customer experience, the market must – and will – innovate.”
So far, 1,000 nights have been booked through Kindred, with an average trip length of around 6.3 days, and they have over 6,000 people on a waiting list for applications. As Airbnb’s future comes into question, crazier stories about Airbnb stays continue to spread.
“I once stayed at an Airbnb and asked the host if I could bring my violin,” tweeted @raquel_gonzo in response to Hearon’s message. “When he arrived, the host had a yard full of neighbors who were ready to hear music. When I said I left my violin at home, they all came in and shouted how their entertainment plans had been ruined.
If nothing else, an extravagant Airbnb story will always make good fodder for a dinner party.