The Airbnb system is meant to provide the host’s contact details once a booking has been paid for and confirmed, but what happens if the system itself malfunctions and the contact information is withheld? On a recent trip, when on my way to my next host, I discovered that the Airbnb app was not displaying any contact details for the host. The contact details had been previously displayed in the app so something had clearly happened which had resulted in the information being deleted. I realised that I could use the message function in the app to contact the host, but I travel with an iPod Touch rather than a smart phone. This meant I needed wifi access to use the message function. I was out of range of any wifi network.
Fortunately this was a place which I had stayed at more than a year earlier so I had a general idea of its location. However, I didn’t have a phone number or an address. I tried several times to locate the place, drawing on my memory of my previous stay, but without success. This was in a foreign country in a town where few people speak English. I tried calling into a convenience store to see whether they would let me connect to their wifi. By this time it was evening and the only person on duty could not understand what I was asking. I continued to try to find the home where I was expected. After an hour of wandering around, I decided to try a different shop. This time the person on duty could speak English and offered to tether my iPod Touch to her phone.
I was immediately able to send a message through the Airbnb message system and within a few minutes the host picked me up. They had been expecting me to arrive an hour earlier and had been worrying about what had become of me. After I was settled in we tried to work out what had gone wrong with the contact information. We discovered that the booking was still showing on the Airbnb app as “requested” even though it was in fact confirmed and paid for. Because its status was showing as “requested”, the contact information was not being displayed.
This episode wasn’t the end of my problems on this particular trip. Overnight, Airbnb released an update to the app and I installed the update. What I didn’t realise was that updating the app deleted the contact details for all hosts for this trip. This would be like an update to an email app deleting all one’s emails. Unfortunately, I did not notice what had happened. So that evening I was again put through the excruciating process of trying to make contact with the host in the absence of any contact details. Again, I had to prevail on the goodwill of the helpful manager of another shop, who this time did speak English, and logged me into his personal wifi account.
Both of these situations seem to have been caused by the flakiness of Airbnb’s app, or perhaps by an error in the Airbnb database. We all know that software errors are not uncommon. However, the real issue here is that Airbnb’s business model leaves guests completely abandoned when bugs in their software result in the loss of contact information. Airbnb tries to represent itself as an ethical service company that cares for the wellbeing of its guests but the truth is that the only problems that Airbnb can recognise are those caused by hosts. There is absolutely no recognition in the Help Centre of the possibility of problems being caused by Airbnb itself, nor what to do about such problems when they occur. Just try to imagine how stressful it would be, travelling in a foreign country where few people speak your language and the information needed to reach where one is booked for the night simply vanishes.