Ghost Airbnb Hosts and Gaming the System

I first used Airbnb in 2014 and have used it 15-20 times since with good results most times. As a journalist, I even wrote a favorable article on the subject. However, in last three years I have noticed five troubling trends.

One: ghost hosts. The person or couple pictured is allowing use of their photo and bio by a third party. On a trip to Florida, a young woman was ghosting for her elderly grandparents who spoke broken English and did not know how to host. In Tennessee, a woman switched her listings to hide bad reviews. Also in Tennessee, a young couple with young children fronted for several properties in an apartment building and resented being contacted by phone for instructions to get into the place.

Two: Fake reviews. In Montana, a host buried a bad review that carefully and credibly listed problems under several one sentence reviews that looked fake. Tip-off in Tennessee: overuse of the word “amazing” in reviews of the host. The Airbnb rating scale is badly designed. “Met expectations”, for example, could be very good, but is only three stars.

Three: Increasingly impersonal. The founding principle was person to person. Now that is rare. Four: Customer service is awful. Impersonal, manufactured, and ignores constructive thoughtful critics. Five: Pricing is deceptive. Cleaning fees of $50 to $75 or more added to a list price of, say, $48, which can change as suddenly as airline ticket fares.

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