Airbnb has some major problems and it’s not one fix or leaky faucet they can just plug up. It’s a widespread set of issues that affect the foundation of the company. But there are some potential solutions, so here are some recommendations on how Airbnb can fix itself.
Some Of The Problems
From discrimination against people of color, who statistically have a harder time successfully booking properties to price gouging in Mexico City, prompting residents to protest, to users being banned from the site for incorrect background check results. It’s gotten pretty bad in general and using Airbnb is a really hit or miss experience so much so that I try to avoid using it when I’m traveling now.
I’m sure a lot of you too are looking at hotels or other alternatives because they often have better service, competitive prices, and a lot less of the weird random trouble that can come from an Airbnb.
I needed to book a few days in Istanbul as a stop gap between apartments and ended up paying around very overpriced $1300 for a week’s stay. But when I got to the apartment it was unbelievably dirty, there was hair all over the bathroom, rotting food in the kitchen, and black mold on the walls. As soon as I was able to book alternative accommodation – I notified Airbnb and the owner I would be leaving, why I was leaving, with photos, and requested a refund.
I had stayed a night there I didn’t request a full refund, even though the apartment was so falsely advertised I should have, I didn’t. And you might be wondering why I waited to book alternative accommodation? Because with almost any Airbnb booking, you don’t know the reaction you’re going to get if you try to cancel early. The owner might have gotten pissed off and thrown me out or locked me out or who knows?
Airbnb, because of how their refunding system works, basically forces you into a negotiation with the owner, mediated by them, for refunds. This process is usually over email, through their support center, since many countries don’t have a local office number you can all.
In the end, my $1100 refund was rejected and the owner offered $800.
Let’s Work On Aircover
Since then, Airbnb has tried to counter these instant regret situations with what they call Aircover. It basically gives you a refund for reservations canceled by owners within 30 days of your stay, and if the place is dirty, you can report it within 72 hours.
So, it’s a tiny start but in practice to make Aircover actually useful, Airbnb needs to do the following:
1. Offer full refunds or alternative accommodation if owners cancel within 90 days of a booking. Right now, it’s only 30 days out. Some cities during peak tourism season are hard to find Airbnbs or there might be an event like the World Cup where 30 days out finding alternative accommodation might not be possible. A refund for an Airbnb isn’t going to do you much good if you can’t go to the event but have already paid for flights, and event tickets, taken time off work, and so on.
2. Give you the option to get a full refund within 24 hours if the apartment isn’t as advertised or is significantly dirty or not adequately prepared for a guest.
Obviously you’ll still have to collect the evidence, photos, and videos for Airbnb to review but if there legitimately is an issue, it shouldn’t require a fight with Airbnb over it. And a simple refund of the cleaning fee just won’t cut it. While we’re talking about cleaning fees, those need to be fixed as well.
Another thing Airbnb can do to discourage dirty or improperly prepared Airbnbs, is to fine the owners. See, right now as it is, if you arrive at a dirty Airbnb, you’ll get a partial refund, maybe even a full refund. Assuming you can find alternative accommodation. But Airbnb still gets their fees, the homeowner at worst breaks even, but there’s not monetary penalty to a host. In fact, that same nightmare Airbnb I was in is still listed on the site.
Maybe they cleaned up their act – maybe it was just a really bad day? In any even there should be a penalty as well as a strike system.
Anytime there’s a valid complaint against a host or listing, there should be a strike assigned. And those strikes should be listed in the reviews. That way you would have the reviews but also see if and how many times disciplinary action was taken against a particular place by Airbnb. Right now, the review sections are usually a few good short reviews and maybe the occasional long 300 word horror story. It’s hard to know what to make out of those reviews because the others, the majority, of people were positive so perhaps you discount that one bad one.
But an Airbnb strike, that would show that disciplinary action was taken against the host, and protect you the consumer from giving business to a bad host and also incentivize hosts to maintain high standards of cleanliness and quality.
Hotels Caught Up
When Airbnb was first gaining traction it had some real perks. First, there was the novelty of various places, a more home-like feel, and prices were often lower than hotels. Now, hotels have adapted – they’re pricing more competitively, offering unique perks and touches to make rooms feel more inviting, and in many places are better regulated.
Airbnb has gone from an agile individual-based startup to a big lumbering corporation but without any of the sensible services the legacy competition can offer, big or small.
Does Airbnb survive? Probably, but for travelers like you and me, there are a lot of competing apartment services for longer term rentals out there and hotels around the world that are looking like a very good alternative to Airbnb – until (and if) Airbnb decides to fix their broken system.