Is the Airbnb Backlash Fair?
Everyone's suddenly hating on Airbnb. Should they be?
Suddenly, everyone hates Airbnb.
The owner of one Airbnb unit tells me, “We can’t advertise on Facebook anymore, because the comments are too vicious now.” When this particular owner (who asked not to be named) was profiled in his local newspaper as an owner of several Airbnb units, he received a barrage of hateful calls and emails, and had his yard signs defaced and torn down.
I confess to being shocked by how quickly the zeitgeist can shift these days, but maybe I shouldn’t be — not after the sudden implosion of Netflix, the backlash to “wokeness,” and the rise and fall and rise and fall and rise of Anne Hathaway.
The truth is, I think Airbnb is fairly great. It has a fantastic website that allows one-stop shopping for lodging literally all over the world.
And it’s a unique kind of lodging. I’m enjoying people’s sudden, newfound appreciation for hotels, but as a nomad who stays in places for a month or more, I prefer not to pay for daily housekeeping I don’t want or need. And I refuse to pay the outrageously expensive prices most hotels charge for laundry services.
Likewise, I can’t afford to eat every single meal of my life out in some expensive on-site restaurant, so I want a well-supplied kitchen to sometimes do my own cooking.
Since Michael and I are a couple who sometimes keep different hours, we also want the privacy of a dedicated bedroom or two. And I want more than a bed to sit on — and couches, preferably, not love seats.
Finally, I love having my own private entrance. And given that these places are essentially my home, a bit of character is nice too.
The day will soon come when the traditional hotel industry rises to meet the needs of long-term travelers like me, but that day has definitely not yet arrived. Most “extended-stay” hotels are a soul-killing joke — not nearly as comfortable as even a mediocre Airbnb.
In fact, I think the whole story of the gig economy is more complicated than most people are willing to admit. For all its many flaws, Uber is still better than the incredibly corrupt and fraud-ridden taxi industry it supplanted — especially for the consumer.
But just because I have a soft spot for Airbnb, that doesn’t mean I haven’t taken the recent criticisms of the company to heart.
Let’s take a look at them one by one, shall we? On the different issues, I’ve even made a point to get a response from actual Airbnb unit owners or managers.
Then with all this in mind — and informed by my own experience with the company— I shall render a verdict as to whether or not I think the specific criticism of Airbnb is fair.
Airbnb Prices Have Risen Really Fast
Prices at Airbnb have risen a lot in the last few years — so much so that it’s now cheaper to rent a hotel room in many cities.
Then again, prices have risen for everything everywhere lately. How much of these higher prices has to do with Airbnb greed — or greed on the part of individual owners?
“I don’t think it’s Airbnb,” says Steve Cueller, who manages Airbnb units for different owners in Idyllwild, California. “Fees haven’t gone up that much. They did add cleaning protocols for Covid, like washing comforters after each guest, which cost money. But costs for everything are up. The cleaning staff deserve a decent wage. Insurance has been spiking dramatically in certain areas. Taxes are up. You don’t make a lot of money doing Airbnb.”
The anonymous Airbnb owner agrees that the profit margin on these rental units isn’t what most people think.
“Take utilities,” he says. “If you’re paying your own utilities, you’re more careful. But when people rent an Airbnb, they don’t think anything about turning on the air conditioner to full, and then opening the windows because they want a breeze. The numbers are incredible.”
Then there are the vagaries of the marketplace, which can be maddening. The average Airbnb unit occupancy rate in the U.S. is only 48%. And things were downright crazy during Covid, with revenue down 30%.
Owning an Airbnb, “is completely unpredictable and should not be relied upon as a primary source of income,” my anonymous source says — although this isn’t necessarily the case for those who own multiple Airbnbs.
Is it fair to hate Airbnb for their rapidly rising prices?
My verdict? Nah. I’m sure Airbnb is currently trying to maximize profits, especially now that they’re the Goliath in the industry, and I'm as annoyed by hidden or unclear fees as anyone. But I think the recent price hikes have mostly been the result of other factors.
Airbnb’s Customer Service Suuuuuuuucks
Have you heard how if you don’t complain about even an outrageously bad Airbnb unit in the first twenty-four hours, you’re out of luck in getting a refund?
Or how, if your host cancels on you at the last minute, Airbnb won’t necessarily find you a comparable unit? And how if your hosts ask you to cancel, and you do, Airbnb won’t help you at all?
And did you see this TikTok from a woman who says she was stranded in France after she rejected her Airbnb unit as unsafe?
By now, we’ve heard all the horror stories.
Airbnb owners tell me they have plenty of horror stories of their own: the guest who books for two, and thirty people show up, or the guest who doesn’t bother to mention she left the mattress soaked with urine.
It should also be noted that all these horror stories are the great exception, not the rule. Michael and I have rented dozens of Airbnb units, in cities all over the world, and while we’ve occasionally been disappointed by the units themselves, we’ve never had anything outrageous happen. We’ve also never had to deal with customer service.
“Ninety-nine percent of the time, a renting is uneventful,” says the anonymous Airbnb owner. “Grandparents come to visit with their kids, and they have a great visit. You don’t hear those stories because they’re boring.”
That said, even this owner agrees that Airbnb’s customer service is terrible.
“They recently fired their staff and hired overseas call-centers,” he says, “and it’s been an absolute disaster. They greatly cut their support staff, and it’s affected everyone. Guests assume that we hosts have some kind of inside track with Airbnb, but that’s not the case. We get the same runaround, the same canned responses from them that have nothing to do with the problem we have.”
Is it fair to hate Airbnb for their horrible customer service?
My verdict? Abso-frickin’-lutely! This is inexcusable, and if anything, they deserve even more scorn than they’ve already received.
Airbnb is now so widespread and successful that it’s changing local communities — and driving up local housing prices.
I’ve saved the most potentially damning aspect of Airbnb for last — in part, because I think it’s the most complicated.
Airbnb is now so popular that it’s literally transforming communities around the world. In part, locals are frustrated by the mere presence of so many tourists, nomads, and expats, but there is also a more tangible concern: because property owners can make more money renting to richer foreigners on Airbnb, fewer apartments are available to locals, driving up prices.
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