We need to talk. Lately, things just haven’t been the same between us. It was fun while it lasted, but we need to go our separate ways. It’s not me, it’s you.
For four years, I’ve been a pretty big fan of Airbnb. I’ve used it on trips, suggested it to friends, and even considered becoming a host myself. But Airbnb is no longer what it once was. When the vacation rental platform launched in 2008 it was considered to be the bridge between budget accommodations like couch surfing and hostels, and the higher end hotels. From pricing, to renter and host nightmares, to outright racism, the platform I once loved isn’t for me anymore.
Here’s why I’m Breaking Up With Airbnb.
The Honeymoon Phase:
Considering Airbnb’s recent boom in value (estimated at 26 billion dollars), I was a moderately early user of the home rental service. People flocked to book with hosts all over the world for obvious reasons; they were sick of being ripped off by hotels who, to the unknowing traveler, had a total monopoly on the accommodation industry. Airbnb provided affordable, relatively easy to book, well-located properties. All you had to do was sign up, find a place, read some host reviews and voila, off you went.
Every relationship has its kinks, but if you’re happy more often than not, it’s worth sticking around. This chapter is all about compromise. Sure, a lot more people were using Airbnb. I have no problems with this type of open relationship. I’m not the jealous type. It was a great way for people to save money, see the world and consequently stick it to the billion dollar hotel industry giants.
Did I have a slightly harder time finding places to stay? Definitely, but it wasn’t impossible. Was I slightly annoyed at the exhausting amount of properties I had to scan through to get a good deal? Of course, but having too many options is a good problem, right? Did I have to pay higher rates when I used the Instant Book option? Yes, but there was an added convenience to it, so I didn’t mind. All in all, there were still more pros than cons, and if I couldn’t find a place to crash on Airbnb, there were alternatives like Room-o-rama, Flipkey, and VRBO. I stayed in hostels most of the time anyway.
Trouble In Paradise:
1. Money Talks: There’s an old clichéd saying, “Money is the root of all evil.” But the fact that it’s cliché doesn’t make it any less true. Prices have gone way up on Airbnb. Not necessarily because the service itself is demanding that hosts charge more, but more so because hosts have realized just how lucrative Airbnb is. People now use the property sharing platform for much more than short term (2 or more weeks) rentals. In a nutshell, this means less properties are available for cheaper or shorter stays. So unless you’re staying for a longer period of time in one place, Airbnb probably might not be the best option for you anymore. I mean, it’s supposed to be cheaper than hotels, right? Then why are properties listed on there for literally thousands of dollars per night?
Another minor money issue with Airbnb is an underhanded little trick that happens when a host has a property listed at a given price, but the price then goes up after selecting the property for more details. To be fair, sometimes the price drops once the property is selected, but it should never increase. That’s not cool. Of course, no matter the price, you’re always free to negotiate with your renter, but when they have dozens or hundreds of potential tenants, they don’t need to bargain with you. It’s basic supply and demand.
2. Nightmare Stories: Everyone has either experienced, knows someone who has experienced or at the very least has heard of an Airbnb nightmare story. Thankfully, I’ve never lived one myself. I have however heard of hosts having their home trashed as the result of an orgy. I also read a story about a dude being sexually assaulted by his transexual host in Spain.
It’s like having a complete stranger tell you the current love of your life committed some heinous crime they conveniently neglected to mention to you for the past 2 years.
Tons of stories have surfaced about tenants checking into roach infested apartments, awkwardly sharing a home with its actual owners, or being woken up in the middle of the night by the landlord because the tenants were never supposed to rent the place on Airbnb at all. Now there are nightmare stories about loads of companies, but most of those don’t affect you while you sleep, and they certainly don’t leave you stranded without a place to lay your head in a foreign country. Not to mention, it really sucks to have your host cancel on you at the last minute for a variety of excuses. Aside from getting a lower host rank, hosts should be held accountable for ruining travel plans and inconveniencing paying customers.
Horror stories aside, Airbnb isn’t always in an easy position. They’ve pretty much built their business on a version of the honour system. Airbnb has become a worldwide success (although illegal in some places) because people are good. Good hosts, rent good living spaces to good tenants, who in turn leave the properties in good condition, leave good reviews and so on and so forth. But if any of the components in the equation go rogue, then things get sticky.
Airbnb does its fair share to make sure things don’t get too crazy. They have good customer service response time, they have an emergency situation help line and if need be, they’re willing to give out lofty credits to turn unsatisfied customers into happy ones. They even give referral bonus credits to hosts and tenants. So they’re not all bad. Finding balance between good value, cost and consumer satisfaction is trickier than it seems.
The Straw That Broke The Camel’s Black:
Racism and many other “isms” are hurtful, ignorant and flat out stupid. I take a particularly strong stance on this being that I identify as person of color. I’m not one to play the race card every time I have a negative exchange with someone of a different ethnicity, but race (a social construct that some group of idiots thought up and that a larger group of idiots use as a tool to oppress billions of human beings) is a big thing on Airbnb. It’s like meeting your partner’s parents for the first time and everything that can go wrong, goes very wrong in spectacular fashion.
A few weeks ago #airbnbwhileblack was trending on Twitter and Facebook after a would be Airbnb tenant brought her saddening experience attempting to book a place to stay to light, and thousands of others responded with similar stories. I was one of those others, and I didn’t even know it.
I read the piece on how hidden (or not so hidden) bias shapes the sharing economy and started thinking to myself, “has this ever happened to me?” A quick look at my Airbnb booking history reminded me that I had only ever stayed with (not by some deliberate measure) hosts who were people of color, people who identified as part of the African diaspora or Indian to be specific. As a matter of fact the 3-4 “white” hosts I tried to book with on my recent trip to Toronto all declined, one after the other, for a variety of reasons/excuses.
“My current tenant decided to extend. I’m actually in town this week and forgot to adjust the availability of my place. Long term rentals only.” Sure enough, I proudly display myself in my profile display picture on the Airbnb site. I’d rather be refused by an ignorant racist than put money into their pockets. This is not a condemnation of the three hosts with whom I couldn’t rent. They may not be racist at all. I’ll never know. But I do know the thought of being judged solely on the melanin levels in my skin, makes me sick to my stomach.
After diving deeper into the curious case of Airbnb-ing while black, I found several studies that reaffirmed the initial racially motivated sentiment, a sentiment I refuse to fall victim to.
It was a good run. And I’ll always remember the good times. But suffice to say, I’ll probably never rent with Airbnb again.
What are your thoughts on Airbnb? Have you had any noteworthy experiences? Share an intelligent response below.
Until next time,