Italian Airbnb Serial Bait and Switch Cancellations

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A group of six UK pensioners, including one seriously ill from multiple sclerosis, had their six-months-in-advanced booked double 70th birthday celebration dream holiday to Florence, Italy cancelled the morning of check-in by a bait and switch scammer.

This “Superhost” was allowed to rack up 39 separate cancellations in a year. Rather than react to complaints and repeated scams, Airbnb simply did nothing, allowing him to ruin ten other families’ holidays over the next two months as new victims flew in from as far as the US, Algeria, and China. On the day of check-in, they found their “booked” apartment cancelled, forcing them to either take his alternative or be stranded in Florence, thousands of miles from home.

The “Romantic Flat in Historical Centre” with its high beautifully decorated ceilings, luxurious bedrooms and bathrooms and large dining area, looking out onto Il dumo, the famous domed cathedral in the centre of Florence, was used as bait to trap unsuspecting families into booking with the host. However, after flying thousands of miles to start their holiday months later, the flaky host shockingly informed them upon arrival in Italy that their booking was in fact cancelled, using excuses ranging from “the family needs it back up as an emergency” to “there has been a burst water main”.

He then offered a replacement, a run-of-the-mill bog-standard apartment, miles outside the centre of Florence and a far cry from the luxury of the booked one. This was done “as a favour” to the duped holiday makers, either at the same price or at a premium, as it was the middle of high season; “unfortunate, but that’s how it is.”

The group of pensioners were old friends who had booked the apartment in December to celebrate a double 70th birthday. One of the group, a 78-year old, had unfortunately been diagnosed with a serious case of multiple sclerosis two years before and his health and mobility had worsened drastically. This debilitating disease meant that this would be his final trip abroad. He loved Florence and Italy and was determined to enjoy it.

The pain caused by even basic movement such as walking meant that he had special requirements such as as a bath – he was unable to stand in a shower safely – and also an entrance with a lift, as stairs were also hugely problematic. They had booked this apartment so far in advance to ensure that his special needs were catered for, with two baths a lift, no steps and four bedrooms with a large dining area provided. They were also in the centre of Florence, minimising difficulty travelling.

However, when they were informed that instead of the luxury four-bedroom apartment that they had booked six months ago and had looked forward to, they were instead offered an insufficient three-bedroom flat, miles outside Florence, or otherwise find an alternative in the middle of summer season on the same day that they had flown in. They were forced to look for any last minute alternative and as you can imagine, none even remotely comparable, or suitable, were available.

They were forced to book two separate locations, via Booking.com, one thirty minutes outside paying a lot more, for a lot less, due to the last minute arrangements and total lack of availability. There were no baths, and there were no lifts resulting in a host of unwelcome mobility issues simply washing and entering and exiting the properties. The size and standard of the décor was woefully inferior to our original booking, being stuck with small, dark rooms with a lack of closet space.

One of the main and important features that we had most sought after was the large dining area, enabling us to eat together in our own comfortable and relaxed environment, without the hassle and stress – and expense – of having to eat out all the time. Neither of our replacement properties had a dining area even remotely sufficient to house all six of us, meaning we had to eat every single meal out, burdening everyone with significant additional unwanted expenses.

Instead of buying breakfast materials at a supermarket, every breakfast cost about €80 and each lunch and dinner at least in excess of €120. Suddenly, an additional £2,525.76 had to be immediately found and paid by six pensioners, most of whom had scrimped and saved to get the original sum paid, forcing them into debt and incredibly difficult, stressful situations as they attempted to source their share in just a few hours. This also impacted greatly on spending money available on the holiday.

The main intention of the holiday, namely living together, was now gone. Instead of a joint holiday and a joint birthday, they were now two separate parties, and a full fifteen minutes apart from each other by car. This meant that rather than being in the same property and location, they now had the difficulty, as well as the additional expense, of having to use taxis to transport one party to the other numerous times daily.

This resulted in significant previously unnecessary monies having to be spent over the duration of the holiday, not to mention the organisational and operational stress and effort and the extra time that this all took, getting everyone too and from the two separate locations, miles apart and away from the centre of Florence. Indeed, one of the elderly couples did not even have smartphones, which caused several difficult situations. These issues ruined everyone’s enjoyment of the holiday and sucked away time earmarked to enjoy the city and each other’s company, as originally planned and intended.

When the group got back after this spoiled expensive and ruined holiday, they investigated the host in greater detail and was shocked to discover that he had perpetuated the same cancellation trick on 29 other families during the preceding nine months, almost every single week. The group immediately complained to Airbnb but they tried to pass it off as an “isolated incident” and refused to take action. They then refused to compensate the group for the loss of enjoyment suffered and the fact that they had fallen victim to a scam artist, closing the matter.

The group persisted with their complaints and tried to highlight the scam. Eventually, three months later, they relented and offered to refund the difference between the booked holiday and the replacement one. This still did not address the loss of enjoyment or the issues raised and the group was concerned that the scammer was still free to continue with the trick.

Airbnb’s case resolution specialist had now gotten involved, promising a fair and unbiased investigation. He eventually came to the conclusion that the “matter was wholly unacceptable, and Airbnb does not tolerate this kind of behaviour. When the reservation was cancelled the host was penalised in violation of our hosting standard. This would greatly impact his hosting here at Airbnb.”

When pressed what the penalty was, or how exactly it “would greatly impact his hosting at Airbnb”, he repeatedly refused to say. He also refused the claim for compensation, only offering €181 (the difference spent) to resolve the matter without addressing damages and loss of enjoyment suffered. He also failed to say why the host hadn’t been stopped from operating.

The elderly group were shocked to discover that since their complaint, the host had continued to repeat the scam, accepting bookings for the apartment in central Florence and then cancelling on the day of check in, once the families had arrived in Italy. Since the complaint was made by the elderly group, he had cancelled bookings a further ten times in two months with seven of those cancellations done on the day of check in when families had already landed in Italy from countries such as Brazil, USA, China, Algeria and UK. Each one had left comments on their dreadful experience on the host’s page:

“[The host] cancelled the booking three hours before the check-in when I was already in Firenze. Even before the cancellation, he did not reply to my inquiry. Out of blue, without responding to none of my inquiry, he cancelled. The only explanation I got was that he had an issue to accommodate me and my company. This has never happened to me during my use of service provided by the Airbnb. I am strongly against his status as super host given his irresponsible and unthoughtful dealing of the situations.”

“The host cancelled on us the morning of our reservation (without explanation) which totally messed up all our plans. Looking at his history this happens often. Beware when booking. This guy is flaky!”

“Bait and switch scam artist! Do not book with this person. They show one apt and when you show up, they try to give you a dump not even comparable while you feel like a fish over a barrel. Leaving you and your family 1000’s of miles from home with little choice. Find another rental. This guy is a fake and a scammer!”

“Avoid! Well where to start. Unfortunately we never got to stay at this host’s Airbnb. We had been confirmed for many weeks. On the run up to our holiday I messaged [the host] numerous times regarding checking in process but he didn’t respond. On the day of arrival [the host] sent a computerised cancellation with no explanation or apology leaving us stranded in Florence with no where to stay! Airbnb were good in assisting with our situation but this should not have been necessary and to date we still have had no apology or explanation from [the host]. Avoid at all costs, it’s just not worth it best book somewhere where you can actually stay.”

The damning evidence was sent to Airbnb, demanding why they had not acted since their complaint and stopped the host from repeating the scam. However, Airbnb refused to respond. Our party is in the process of taking Airbnb to court for loss of enjoyment and damages and essentially causing their problem by allowing this person to perpetuate thirty cancellations before they had even booked with him.

Airbnb is responsible for their and indeed all of the 39 victims cases. If Airbnb had cared about its customers’ suffering at the hands of this con-artist, then they would have immediately shut him down. However, they were getting commission out of it, regardless of how that commission was earned, and allowed – and continue to allow – scammers to operate in this disgraceful and damaging way within its business.

Incredibly, the group discovered that subsequently all of the negative reviews (above) have now been removed, allowing more unsuspecting victims to suffer. Now, unbelievably, only 15 reviews (instead of the 498, including the 39 cancellations) are viewable, with him receiving 4.93 out of 5 stars. This disgraceful fact shows exactly how Airbnb operates and the sad fact is that this host continues to operate in this shady way today.

This sad and murky episode is completely unacceptable. People should start voting with their feet and spreading the word that Airbnb is not deserving of their business. There is a clear and real danger that if you book with them then the booking is fake and will be cancelled when you arrive.

Do not trust Airbnb. Do not use Airbnb. They will leave you stranded. It’s all about the money for them. They do not care about your welfare.

Posted in Airbnb Guest Stories and tagged , , , , , , .

17 Comments

  1. Hello, I’m really sorry to read what happened to you. I’m researching the ‘bait and switch’ issue for a current affairs programme I’m making for ITV – I’m investigating how common it is, and whether there are particular hosts who do this a lot. I’d be very grateful to hear from people about their experiences.

    This is just for background research at the moment, but if those who know about this issue wouldn’t mind talking to me about their experience, I would be very grateful. You can drop me an email on emma.slater@itv.com. I think this bait and switch con needs looking into.

    Thank you,
    Emma.

  2. This is crazy. I’m a host, and Airbnb always seems to host with the guest. Because of a clog in my dishwasher (that ended up taking about a minute to fix) Airbnb refunded the guest’s money for several days, and then the guest blasted me with a one star review in all caps “DO NOT STAY HERE!!!” regardless.

    If I ever cancel on a guest, I get heavily penalized. Now I read this story. How this guy could do it over and over makes no sense.

    I have come to the conclusion that I need to host on other platforms as well and not depend on them.

    Airbnb’s review system sucks, plain and simple.

    They have made me some money, but they could do so much better. I’m trying out Hostaway now.

    • Hi TW – Thanks for your interesting appraisal of the situation from a Host’s perspective. I can 100% assure you that this happened and was genuine. We booked in January and flew in June and he did it on the day, offering us a run down shack with fewer bedrooms miles outside Florence “As a favour”. Our double 70th birthday holiday was ruined and it was spent struggling and getting taxis all over the city owing to the physically debilitated condition of 2 of our party, 1 with very serious multiple sclerosis. In truth, the worst thing was as you say HOW they allowed him to do it again and again TEN TIMES in the following 2 months AFTER my complaint, and the conclusion I have drawn is either MONEY (he had still made them a lot of money during the preceding years) and simple inefficiency owing to their size. ie no one DID anything….. But those comments are all 100% genuine. I whipped them off the Hosts page before suddenly they were GONE and only positive reviews remain. (4.93/5 stars!!!!) meaning it is going to happen again and again and again, distressingly! Anyway, like you say, trying out different platforms sounds like a plan. I or any of my friends will never use Airbnb ever again. Thanks for posting anyway, good luck!

    • Something doesn’t add up here? You have linked a listing that has one bedroom? And I elevetor or bath tub. Could you have overbooked a smaller Listing without the amenities you claim …

    • Well, funny that you say that Jon, I just received an email yesterday from Airbnb, advising of its ‘New Terms & Conditions’ of business. I guess they are worried about this and have closed any and all loopholes with just that (class action suit) in mind, i.e. its not me, its you…. 🙁

  3. So sorry. I can’t imagine the feeling of being cheated for such a special occasion. I also had a bad Airbnb experience in Florence very recently. I had the nastiest host other the fact that he purposely omitted to let us know of the construction on the building. Couldn’t sleep and couldn’t wait to come back home. It left me such a bad taste of Florence that I vowed never to return.

    • I had a similar experience in Florence this past May. It left me like you with horribly unwelcoming feelings from a city I’ve loved and been to 5 times. It’s amazing what a bad experience Caused by a host’s awful treatment can tarnish what was a beautiful destination. I am going back next summer but with extreme caution. I’ve seen and experienced a change in short term rentals in a tourist invaded city like Florence due to desire to exploit the tourist industry. It’s a shame that the greedy, scam artists have infiltrated Airbnb because they haven’t been vetted properly. I spent a year planning my trip and even cross referencing this apartment from other rental agencies. They were still able to fool me with their super host status, elegant photos and flawless reviews. In defense, none of my photos, documentation, videos and recordings of demolition noises and unsanitary conditions due to the “balcony” being used as a pigeon roost as well as broken, decrepit furniture, exposed wires and overloaded sockets etc. were actually referred to or used by Airbnb when I tried to get a refund. Long story short, Airbnb’s days are limited.

      • Hi Janice, I couldn’t agree with you more. The beautiful city is being ruined by experiences such as both of ours. So sorry that you suffered similarly to us. As you say, the way that Airbnb HIDE negative reviews which could warn people off the scammers means that people continue to suffer again and again. They protect them in the hope that in doing so they protect the reputation of their business – whilst simply allowing it to repeat again and again. As stated, this guy cancelled 45+ people, but if you look on his site page today, he gets 4.93/5 stars and only positive reviews remain – amazingly!! https://www.airbnb.co.uk/rooms/21807218?source_impression_id=p3_1573389044_%2FTWtX7EguWE8misp

        Anyway, sending you love, sorry for your experience with Airbnb and thanks for contributing x H

        • You’ve allowed many of us to feel comfortable venting our experiences. Thank you for your kindness and sincere desire to help prevent other travelers from this awful person.

    • Thank you so much for your kind thoughts and for posting Sylvie. Two 70th Birthdays and a long-saved-for and awaited holiday was ruined….. and it never existed in the first place! I feel just as sorry for the TEN familes who suffered AFTER we did and we complained…. Just incredible to think that Airbnb did nothing and 7 MORE families were stranded on the streets of Florence with nowhere to go too! I am sorry that you have suffered at their hands too !! Love x H

  4. Your last sentence sums up the whole situation. Best of luck with your case, but don’t hold your breath…..

    I am thinking of buying a few shares at their flotation, just to go along to any shareholder meeting and tell them what a despicable organisation they are.

    • Thanks for your comments Mike sounds like a plan…..!!! Ill come with you!! They really only care about money, at other peoples suffering and misery. The business is full of con artists who take a cut of the illicit gains and then have their treachery covered up by Airbnb before going on to the next victim. What was worse, was after we brought it to their attention, they did nothing, and ANOTHER TEN people fell victim to him over the next 2 months, flying 1000s of miles – only to discover they were ‘Cancelled”.. … Despicable!!

  5. This is absolutely shocking and a disgraceful response from Airbnb for not discontinuing the scam. However, other sites are just as prone to these scams as Airbnb is, except they do not have websites set up against them. You will always get people trying to scam a system and Airbnb as well as other rental sites are open to this. I am a super host with Airbnb and have been for nearly 5 years. The vast majority of rentals through Airbnb are secure safe and decent, It is crucial when buying ANYTHING to check and double check everything!

    • Hi Angela, thanks for posting. I could just about understand and accept what happened to us, only he had done it THIRTY times before in the preceding year. Being from an older generation, I had not realised that this sort of thing exists and just trusted Airbnb to do their own checks and ‘housekeeping’ effectively. The worst thing that I have taken out of this is not what happened to us, but what happened AFTER us, ie TEN further people suffered at his hands in the two months since I reported it to Airbnb. SEVEN of those were ON THE DAY cancellations, when they had arrived in Florence from countries around the world. This, I cannot accept. All Airbnb had to do was react to what happened to us effectively and these ten new situations would have been avoided, but instead, they were allowed to happen. This for me, and as you also conclude, is a shocking and disgraceful response. Yes, there are bad apples out there in every barrel as you point out, but to not only fail to remove them but to COVER THEM UP (as in the case of the bad reviews being removed) and allow it to happen again. That is unacceptable and says much about the ‘Underbelly’ of Airbnb allowed to and being encouraged even, to prosper, unfortunately. This is what they need to be accountable for and I intend to publicise this, as it is very real and continues to harm people unaware that this is how they operate. Anyway, best of luck to you and thanks for comments x H

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