Airbnb vs. the Free and Open Internet
Are the platforms your friend? It depends on the economics.
I had a terrible experience as an Airbnb guest in Oaxaca this week.
While my wife and I were out, our host entered the apartment with two other people and a dog without our permission. When we returned to find these three people in the apartment, the host confronted us about the apartment being “filthy” (not true), told us he was charging a “deep cleaning fee” (not allowed) then threatened to leave a bad review if we didn’t pay (against Airbnb terms of service).
We were both shocked and horrified at the situation and immediately felt violated and unsafe being there. After the host and his entourage finally left (after 20 minutes of attempted extortion), we packed in a rush and found a hotel across town.
For their part, Airbnb acted swiftly to make things right. After we reported the incident, Airbnb relocated us to a hotel and paid for three nights, and reimbursed us for the remaining time on our reservation as we were two weeks into a month-long stay.
In some ways, thank god for Airbnb. In other ways, it’s not so simple.
The platforms have an incentive to keep the money flowing. What seems like an act of goodwill is actually a complicated risk/reward calculation honed from many years of experience and experimentation.
At first, it seems like Airbnb did us a great service. They’re not responsible for the actions of hosts, but offer guests resolutions in weird situations like this to keep people happy with the platform. They take care of customers. It’s simply good business practice.
But here’s where it gets complicated. We’re both guests and hosts (we have a guest apartment on the platform as well). The host who extorted us is also a customer to Airbnb, both as a host and guest.
And there are big numbers involved. Just look at our Airbnb earnings from this year alone.