Would you buy a second hand car from an individual without seeing the vehicle and test driving it? Probably not. Would you pay for a hotel room without seeing it? Yes, because a business is running the hotel and there are rules and laws it has to follow – not to mention that it probably wants positive customer reviews as well.
Would you pay in advance for accommodation published on Airbnb that is provided by an individual? Many travelers say yes, but we hesitate. Here is why.
This is a story that recently happened to a writer who works with us. She was traveling, and exploring southern Europe when she needed a place to stay for a week. She had (and still has) a perfect visitor record at Airbnb. She wanted a whole apartment to herself where she could rest and write. So, she searched for a quiet, peaceful place near the sea.
She discovered a place she liked: a tastefully furnished, parties forbidden in the apartment because the neighborhood is so peaceful and quiet – perfect. According to the information on Airbnb, it was located near a fishing village that was only a short walk away from the apartment.
The problems started with the address. The owner of the apartment had given an address that couldn’t be found. An email was quickly sent out, and the landlord emailed another address (in another town) that was fairly easy to find. The real address wasn’t near the fishing village or the sea.
The arrival was a shock for her. The apartment was located in a barrio, in a neighborhood where people hang out on the streets in front of the houses. Broken windows in worn-out cars. Lots of dogs and cats running around free. Litter and feces on the pavements. Constant barking of dogs, people shouting at one another and car engines revving between buildings created the atmosphere for the barrio.
It was late, she had already paid for the accommodation, there was little else she could do, so she decided to stay. Inside in the apartment it was as advertised, at least.
Next morning, she wanted to take a walk by the sea. Smartphone navigator showed the shortest way – the only way – to the fishing village. A long way to walk, but she intended to take a taxi back. It was a narrow, busy road. She started walking, but soon realized the road was too dangerous because of heavy traffic.
The moment she stepped on the pavement outside the apartment she had to fend herself from dogs and stand the looks of boldly staring residents. There was no common language, only the message that she doesn’t belong there.
So, in order to quiet down the constant unrest outside and the creeping feeling of unsafeness, she listened to her iPod for one week, wrote a lot and swore she wouldn’t rent anything without seeing it first.
Now, she has a new problem. She has to be able to check a potential apartment before booking. She has lost her trust in virtual apartments. On Airbnb, it is not possible the review a real apartment before booking. The service strips phone numbers and other information that allow setting up a meeting between parties. She has to find another way of discovering and booking rentals. For now, she is contacting local real estate agents in a destination where she is going next.
How did the Airbnb host do it? The first trick was to advertise a fishing village as the location for the property, even though the real location was in a nearby inland town. Having a car would have been the only possible way to make the trip from the apartment to the beach. The second trick was to advertise it as a peaceful, calm place. Naturally, people have different opinions on what is noise and what is quiet, but for some reason, the noise level declined considerably every time the police made their daily visit in the barrio.
Is the landlord still getting away with it on Airbnb? Yes. Airbnb or the apartment owner haven’t changed a word in the property description. She wrote a polite and truthful review about the apartment but it didn’t have an effect on the description. At close inspection, there seems to be other reviews at Airbnb that mention exactly the same problems as the writer experienced.
Why didn’t she read all the reviews before booking? There are a few reviews that mention the same problems, but she trusted the property description and having read a couple of reviews, she thought everything was fine. She had stayed in other Airbnb places before this without concerns or major problems.
Since Airbnb is the business that publishes the information on properties, it is responsible for the accuracy of the information. Plain and simple. The host, of course, may disagree and refer to positive reviews that mention nothing about incorrect information or potential unsafety of the neighborhood. Ultimately, Airbnb has to decide who to trust and what is correct. If paying customers stop trusting Airbnb, that’s it. Game over.
If Airbnb neglects these kind of cases, it is only a matter of time before something really nasty happens to a customer, or customers get fed up, and the corporation’s business model will be under scrutiny.
For ages, real estate agents have acted as brokers between people who need short-term or long-term accommodation and people who own houses and apartments. The agents are successful only if the landlords and the renters trust the agent. If something is not right, the agent has to act. In every country, laws regulate how the business works, and what the responsibilities of the parties are.
Sharing economy is here, and we welcome everything it enables, but corporations have to carefully take every aspect of the new business model into consideration.