Airbnb was once the future of travel, undercutting local hotels and offering people affordable rooms and private accommodations that allowed tourists to live as the locals live. But Airbnb ushered in a slew of unintended and undesirable consequences for travelers, the travel industry, and cities alike. So maybe it’s time we put the accommodation marketplace experiment to rest because there are many good reasons to never use Airbnb again.
Remember how Ticketmaster lost a lawsuit over their exorbitant fees that you only saw at check-out? A lot of Airbnb hosts have taken a page out of Ticketmaster’s pre-lawsuit playbook by padding their rental income with ridiculous fees that aren’t included in the nightly rate that come up in search results. There is no reality in which it costs $150 to clean a studio in Bucharest. The most insulting part of it is when you pay a cleaning fee only to arrive at apartments covered in dust or with rotting food in the fridge.
“Take out all the trash, put all the sheets in the wash before you leave, drop off the key at the café downstairs when you check out. If the neighbors see you, tell them you’re a family friend.” From quiet hours to maximum thermostat temperatures, many Airbnb hosts have ridiculous rules and requirements for staying at their place. Sure, you can’t really throw a house party in a hotel room either, but if I wanted to have every second of my stay micromanaged, I would just couch surf at my most annoying family member’s house for free. Why would anyone pay money to be treated like this?
Let’s face it. When you stay at an Airbnb, you’re at the mercy of a stranger from some far-flung city whose character you have to rely on reviews from other strangers to verify. You don’t know if this person is going to try to aggressively hit on you. If there are hidden cameras in the unit. Or if he’s going to threaten to throw out all your bags and lock you out of your accommodation after a disagreement. There’s no front desk you can call if you feel uncomfortable or unsafe. And all of this is just the tip of the iceberg. There are dozens of safety issues that probably have never even occurred to you that make up the most common guest complaints.
The check-in process
Listen, there is no amount of savings that’s going to make me want to wait outside a strange apartment building at 11 pm for the cleaning lady to let me inside or go on a scavenger hunt for a key that’s taped to a rusting bicycle one block down. Give me a 24-hour desk or give me death. Even if it’s too early to check into a hotel, at least you can leave your bags and use the bathroom. I don’t want to spend my first few minutes in a new destination tracking down some host who is not responding to my texts so I can get inside the accommodation I paid for.
The cancellation policies
Most hotels offer free cancellations with as little as one day notice, and there’s rarely a problem with that because it’s company policy and the person issuing your refund makes the same amount of money regardless of whether you show up for your reservation or not. But Airbnb cancellation policies tend to err on the side of strict and cancellation disputes can become contentious. Some hosts may even try to scam you out of payment by asking you to cancel on your end even if they’re the ones that can no longer host you, thus turning your need to cancel into a conflict resolution issue. Good luck with that! In this day and age, flexibility is too important to risk losing an entire week’s stay because you had an emergency or simply because your plans changed at the last minute.
Imagine you book and pay for a luxury cabin because of the hot tub only to find out when you arrive that you have to pay $200 to use the hot tub for the week. Hosts aren’t allowed to charge you any fees outside the platform, but they do. Why? Because you’re trapped. You’re not going to upend your whole vacation and find last-minute accommodations. This is just one of the ways that Airbnb hosts can be underhanded and shady. They may also ask for cash deposits, post misleading listings, or force last-minute changes that require you to be moved to a place you didn’t book.
And Airbnb loyalists will tell you that customer service is really helpful and that they’ll find you comparable alternative accommodation. But who wants to start a vacation like that? Especially if you’re having a dispute with a person whose home you’re still forced to stay in until an alternate solution can be found.
One of my worst Airbnb stays was in Paris. It was a perfectly chic Parisian flat with a view of the Eiffel Tower and excellent reviews. But as luck would have it, the hot water stopped working right before my three friends and I arrived one afternoon in chilly March. We spent the whole stay trying to coordinate with the host to fix the problem as if we came to Paris to wait around for a handyman. If we had stayed at a hotel, we probably would have been able to move rooms to one without a plumbing problem. Instead, we had to take ice cold showers all weekend.
Airbnb used to be categorically more affordable than staying at a hotel, especially if you’re willing to stay in some creepy guy’s private room in Berlin. But as the business of short-term rentals has boomed and more property managers are trying to squeeze as much out of their apartments as possible, the difference between most Airbnbs and an average hotel is almost nothing. If you want a place that’s well reviewed or run by a “Superhost,” you might as well be staying at the Hilton. And at the Hilton, you get free breakfast, 24-hour reception, and no house rules.
There’s a difference between leaving a review of a hotel chain that is backed by a billion-dollar corporation and leaving a review for a friendly couple whose place wasn’t as clean as described or whose AC doesn’t work so well. A lot of people try to avoid being disrespectful to their hosts even if their stays were subpar. It’s like when you give an Uber driver 5 stars because they were so nice even though their driving almost killed you. It’s hard not to feel like you’re reviewing a person rather than the accommodation itself, especially because you receive a review as a guest as well – it just creates an economy of bullshit. Additionally, no one is afraid of Marriott retaliating for a negative review, but maybe you don’t want to piss off a guy who has a picture of your passport, your social media, and your phone number. I’m sure there’s a lot more lying by omission in Airbnb reviews than on hotels.com which is why many Airbnb stays end up being disappointing.
Be honest, there’s something luxurious and special about being able to get fresh towels and sheets every day if you so choose. Or waking up to a nice buffet breakfast. Having a kitchen is not the perk you think it is, especially if I have to run the dishwasher and put everything back in the cupboard before I check-out. If I wanted to cook every day, I would just stay home. If I have an early flight, arranging a wake-up call or a taxi through the hotel is convenient. If I run out of toilet paper, I like being able to call the front desk and have it delivered to my room. As my friend who had to run to a corner store in Peru between bouts of explosive diarrhea would tell you, the alternative sucks.
Effects on tourism
I’m the last person to argue in favor of any kind of large company, but at the very least hotels employ a variety of different people: receptionists, chefs, cleaners, security, etc. At a corporate level, there are financial teams, human resources, customer service, marketing, social media managers. On the other hand, a thriving Airbnb manager with 10 properties is making money only for himself (and Airbnb).
During the pandemic, the effects of this were especially evident. All at once, entire neighborhoods that were once shared by residents and tourists were suddenly completely vacant, and a lot of nearby cafes and restaurants went bust as a result because they no longer have any local clientele.
For tourists, this sucks too because it means you’re visiting a prop version of a real city that is designed to cater to outsiders – everything is contrived for your benefit. There’s no longer a limit on the number of visitors in town at any given time because where hotel demand could once control that, accommodation availability is now almost limitless with private rentals. This leads to packed sights and attractions, puts a huge strain on public resources such as transportation, and makes locals resent tourists and treat them like shit.
Effect on local housing market
Maybe the best reason to never use Airbnb again is that it’s ruined the housing market in a lot of great cities. If the average rent for a one-bedroom in Barcelona is say, €600, but an Airbnb host can fetch an average of €50 a night for their apartment, they lose €900 a month by renting that apartment long-term to a resident of Barcelona. That’s how the average rent in Barcelona has crept up to €1000 even though the average monthly net salary is not even €2000. So what’s the result? City centers become inaccessible to locals who can’t afford them, and previously peaceful residential areas become infested with obnoxious tourists for whom it’s Saturday every day of the week.
If you’re an aspiring homeowner, you can kiss your dreams goodbye, because the value of local properties has become so artificially inflated that the only ones that can afford to buy are short-term rental companies that exploit Airbnb to offer you a moldy room with no toilet paper.
So why are we still doing this to ourselves? It’s time to put Airbnb (and all its offshoots like Vrbo and HomeToGo) to rest.