I’m an Airbnb host – a recently crowned ‘superhost’ if you don’t mind – and I have a relationship problem. After being smitten with Airbnb for years, I’m considering breaking up with the global travel behemoth.
Perhaps I’m not the only one. You don’t have to look hard to find hosts bemoaning a deteriorating quality of guests, or breakages or thefts that haven’t been covered.
My love for Airbnb began a few years ago when I began renting out my spare bedroom to a bevy of travellers hailing from Russia to Italy and beyond. We shared stories, laughs and talked travel. With the proceeds I had my own adventures, often staying in other Airbnbs. I loved that you could still trust people with your home, and vice versa.
Lately, I’ve been renting out my one-bedroom apartment, which has allowed me to flit back and forth between Melbourne and Bali, and now Torquay.
But after a bad run of guests (the 50 prior were mostly awesome), I’ve started to wonder whether Airbnb has become, well, too “mainstream”. Do people no longer respect the trust that underpins the whole deal? Is it OK to smoke in a no-smoking apartment, to leave rubbish all over the place?
These things happen. But a recent booking, combined with the lacklustre efforts of Airbnb, made me seriously doubt whether Airbnb has its hosts’ backs.
Some guests, already at my apartment, wanted to extend for a week. We hadn’t met in person, but all appeared OK. Rather than accepting cash, I asked them to go through Airbnb’s system, proposing an alteration to their dates. They accepted and the booking went through. But where was the money?
Airbnb said the payment had been unsuccessful so I tried to liaise between the guests and the online platform. The guests stalled, saying they’d paid. Countless calls and emails to Airbnb’s call centre brought nothing but frustration.
Stressed out, I returned to find my place in a state. The guests had helped themselves to an odd, luckily inexpensive, collection of items (who steals pegs?) I realised I’d been taken for a ride – a $500 one – plus damages and theft – at that.
After lodging a dispute resolution claim with Airbnb, the site finally refunded $100 for the stolen and damaged goods. The missing $500 miraculously appeared after I embarked on this article.
It seems that when something goes drastically wrong at a listing – drug-fuelled orgy, anyone? – Airbnb acts. But what about the smaller cases? Can you really trust Airbnb to actually do anything to help? Amid phenomenal growth, can Airbnb even keep up?
Superhost Kirsten, who’d prefer not to use her surname, is still frustrated by an experience earlier this year, when guests stole $3000 of her belongings. Three guests had booked to stay, but Kirsten believes about eight turned up. She says they stole everything from vintage champagne glasses to coffee table books, linen and clothing from a locked wardrobe, including an evening gown and a Kill Bill costume.
After a police report and countless emails to Airbnb, Kirsten says Airbnb gave her $300. She claimed another $600 from her personal insurance, leaving her about $2000 out of pocket.
Kirsten says she loved the spirit behind the concept of Airbnb. “But to become a cog in the wheel that doesn’t support any of the practicalities that go with it, it’s just disheartening. I would never host on Airbnb again … unless you have an apartment that has minimal opportunities for damage and nothing in it.”
An Airbnb spokesperson says there have been 180 million guest arrivals through the site, and negative incidents are extremely rare.
“Our community is growing quickly because it is built on trust – it is the foundation of our business. We’ve developed a number of key features that help to build this trust, protect our community and help prevent bad behaviour and permanently ban bad actors.”
That includes a 24/7 helpline and reimbursement and insurance programs such Airbnb’s million-dollar host guarantee, and host protection insurance.
But that didn’t work out for Alan, whose listing included a $700 security bond. He has quit Airbnb after guests destroyed saucepans, damaged his vacuum cleaner and left a massive red stain on his curtains. The damage bill was about $700, with Airbnb refunding $50.
“I assumed that the damage deposit would be honoured, that all you would have to do is provide evidence of the damage that I had,” he says. “I would dissuade any of my friends from using Airbnb as hosts because there’s absolutely no protection for the owner of the premises.”
As for me, I’m tentatively dipping my toe back in the water. Because, like with most great loves, I really don’t want to let go of the whole concept just yet. Even if the trust isn’t quite there.