This is a story about an unpleasant experience but more so, the entire loss of trust in a like home sharing platform like Airbnb. To me, it raises questions regarding the future of the sharing economy. My girlfriend and I stayed in a private room in a house in a large southern California city. All names have been changed in this story. Tom was the host. We saw a very well-priced private room available, and pristine and luxurious photos of a beautiful very high dollar home. The pictures included the bedroom, the front of the home, two patio areas, a large kitchen, an entry area room with sofas, and a living room with a sofa and fireplace in the background. They looked like pictures from a realty company. The written content looked like it was promoting a high dollar hotel. He wrote – in my opinion, not very clearly – that the kitchen was not available to guests. But the other areas looked nice, and the place had good reviews. We expected a nice place where we could enjoy some calm comfortable down time in the city for a few nights. We were wrong.
The nice description and pictures of this home were like a nice façade on the scammer’s hotel. We learned that by canceling our stay here, we were not able to write a review to warn others about our experience. This threw all my trust in Airbnb out the door, as people who cancel their stays at questionable places are not represented in the review system, leaving a bias of only good reviews at each home. I’ll never use Airbnb again, and I write here because of how disappointed and frustrated I am that people can take advantage, by taking a cool idea and using it in such a horrible way.
We arrived to find an older man and a kid there, and I guess that they were guests there for a month while their other home was being remodeled. Then later we learned that the man was actually the owner. He was there with his kid for a month. I was a bit confused. He didn’t seem like he wanted to converse at all. In our room there was a welcome book like you would find at a hotel. In the book there was a written introduction to the house, as well as any restrictions – not using the kitchen, no control of the air conditioner (we felt too hot) – and how much they loved their previous guests. I was surprised because the laundry was an amenity listed on Airbnb, but in this book it was written it cost 6 USD. It felt like we couldn’t use as much of the home as we expected. In addition, I thought it was strange that we were only given the contact information of the host, who turned out to be the person in charge of bookings.
There was a noticeable lack of information or even a name of the owner who seemed to be so happy to have all these guests stay at his home. You know that feeling in your gut when something is wrong. I felt that and still do today when I remember this experience. Tom arrived later that day and I talked with him about what we could do and places we could use. From this discussion, we understood that the owner reserved the living room in addition to the kitchen for himself, meaning we were not welcome to use that living room either. This was not understood from the posting. I was surprised as there was a picture of this living room on Airbnb and nothing was written that we couldn’t use it. We learned that the home was for sale, but taken off the market. The owner is moving out, and they plan to turn it into an “Airbnb hotel.”
Every room was listed on Airbnb, and no rooms had keys, meaning people were coming and going each day. I thought about how safe my belongings were. I felt like the aim and motivation of the host and owner was to get people in and out and collect the money quickly. Normally, Tom said, people come and stay only to sleep. Unfortunately, that was not what we were desiring or expecting. The next morning we packed our things and left. We took a close look at the listing and found several things that we felt misled by. This included the washer and dryer cost, that all the rooms of the house are offered, and guests are coming and going each day; there was nothing mentioned about this in the listing. There were no locks on the bedroom doors, we expected a level of comfort that upon arrival was not available, the noise outside of planes passing by was there even though he wrote that they were quiet and could not be heard, and the feeling of not being welcome in the home all added to our feeling of being misled and used.
I sent a message to Tom telling him about all of this, that we would be cancelling the stay, and requested a refund within 24 hours of arrival. In order to cancel, you have to call Airbnb. I called and told the customer service representative Andy about what happened. He said he would look through my messages to Tom and talk with Tom to see if I was eligible for the refund. It was during this communication with Tom that I learned how little support Airbnb offers to guests. In order to get the refund, they need to verify if there were areas shown to be available to guests that actually were not available. He confirmed that the kitchen was not available. But Andy said that when he talked with Tom, all the other areas were available. This is not what Tom told us. Andy took Tom’s word for it over the phone.
Thus, Airbnb cannot override the host’s cancellation policy, and I only received a refund for Airbnb’s fee, less than 30 USD. This really surprised me: It didn’t matter if I thought the host’s listing was misleading. I told Andy from Airbnb that what Tom said was false. Andy said that I need to provide written documentation evidence that the host told us something different than what he told you. Shall I bring a camera and record the entire experience at each stay? Or am I supposed to communicate only through Airbnb’s messaging system? No verbal communication? How is this even possible when the whole idea is to stay in someone’s home?
This is clearly impracticable. Tom was not interested in the other points where I felt misled either. The fact a host can mislead a perspective guest into booking an experience that the guest finds inaccurate upon arrival has made me loose all trust in the host listing and the Airbnb community. That he can do this while running it as an “Airbnb hotel” scares me even more. And now I have lost trust in Airbnb guest support. Where is the accountability? To add to the frustration, Tom sent a long and very nasty message to me on Airbnb’s message service regarding the entire ordeal. In my opinion, it was very defensive and immature. It seemed like he had a lot to lose. After his rant, and in the end, he did mention that he would not refund the money. But he would offer a refund if the room were rebooked. I have to rely on his good nature to see if this happens. After everything we went through I doubt anything will be refunded.
I didn’t wait around; I canceled my Airbnb account immediately. I am done with them. Where does this lead? In the wider perspective, I can see how there will be more and more hosts like this one, basically offering an “Airbnb hotel”, moving guests in and out, collecting the revenue while Airbnb collects the fees. All the while this leaves hosts unaccountable for poor service and underperforming experiences. From the hosts’ and Airbnb’s perspective, I guess it’s pretty good for them in the short term.
Now that the stay has been canceled, I’ve learned that I cannot leave feedback for future guests! Thus, I lost trust in the entire Airbnb rating system, because poor or negative stays that are cancelled, which would warn perspective guests, cannot be posted. In my eyes, this creates a biased system that favors hosts and Airbnb’s interests.
This system works on perceived trust. I’ve lost all trust in Airbnb. They have just lost a few customers for life. I cannot recommend Airbnb to anyone anymore. “Book homes from local hosts and experience a place like you live there,” Airbnb says in its app: a meaningless, disappointing and misleading statement in my opinion. My experience probably wasn’t a common one, but these little abnormal, extraordinary experiences are what can cause the most frustration, the most interesting stories, and in the end, I hope they will be a force to bring about positive change.