Airbnb Is Losing Its Appeal

Unpredictable guest experiences, excessive fees, and a role in intensifying the housing crisis has soured opinions on Airbnb. Do the pros of short-term rentals outweigh the cons?

Image courtesy of Airbnb

When Airbnb first debuted, the travel industry hadn’t seen anything like it. Co-founded by RISD schoolmates Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia and later joined by technologist Nathan Blecharczyk, the service successfully booked its first customers during a conference in summer 2008, when travelers had difficulty securing short-term lodging in San Francisco. Guests and hosts praised its variety of options and hassle-free online booking. 

Since Airbnb’s starry-eyed origins, the tech unicorn has gradually devolved into chaos. Early complaints about negative experiences have intensified. Pest-infested rooms. Hidden cameras. Bait-and-switch scams. Last-minute cancellations. Intrusive hosts. Excessive fees. Chore lists. Faced with a torrent of backlash and public scrutiny at every misstep, Airbnb listings now come with a laundry list of rules that guests must follow or risk poor ratings—and even more fees. And these are only minor offenses. Airbnb has hired a world-class “safety team” that keeps guests at bay when their rental experience is outright nightmarish in order to prevent more PR disasters.

“The change was so slow and incremental that there was never one moment when Airbnb became so awful. But as unique mom-and-pop vacation rentals have given way to corporate property management behemoths, the charm of Airbnb has slowly eroded until all that’s left are unpredictable lodging experiences at high prices,” Sam Kemmis writes for Nerdwallet. “The cons of staying at Airbnb properties so often outweigh the pros that travelers—even cheapskate backpackers—might reconsider its outsized role in the travel universe.”

Image via @authentiffany/TikTok

Many of Airbnb’s issues arise because unlike hotels, individual rentals lack full-time staff. Even the seediest motels will at least attempt to solve problems and change your room, but guests at Airbnbs often need to deal with problems on their own if their hosts aren’t responsive. (Don’t think about leaving bad reviews, either.) But when you’re inundated with household chores, abiding by excessive rules, and hit with hidden fees without the amenities of a hotel, do the pros of an Airbnb rental still outweigh the cons? 

Twitter doesn’t seem to think so. “The Airbnbust is upon us,” wrote a Dallas-based housing expert, who tweeted screenshots from a Facebook group called “Airbnb Superhosts” in which members complained of low bookings. The tweet went viral and prompted an impassioned response from users. “Holiday Inns are usually pretty nice and don’t give me lists of chores like I’m in third grade,” one person quipped. Another: “Maybe it’s because you evicted a family of four, converted their home into a shoddy duplex, filled it with clearance bin TJ Maxx decor, and charge guests $200 for a cleaning fee, all because you don’t feel like getting a job.”

Photography by Shannon Stapleton/Reuters

They have a point. Along with supply chain woes, the construction slowdown, and exclusionary zoning laws, the short-term rental industry has been accused of driving up housing prices. Opportunistic landlords gobble up long-term rentals that once housed locals, converting them into short-term Airbnbs where a two-night stay may cover its monthly rent. Cities like New York and Amsterdam have cracked down on short-term rentals, but the former recently reported having more Airbnb listings than apartments on the market. (That doesn’t bode well during a historic housing shortage.) A 2016 report estimates Airbnb’s grip on the housing stock costs New Yorkers an extra $616 million in annual rent, though many factors inform the housing market and make Airbnb’s true impact more difficult to measure. 

One way to save Airbnb? Turn it into a platform exclusively for weird and wonderful rentals you can’t find anywhere else. 

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