Airbnb is having a bad week.
We’d never deny that the sharing economy has opened up accommodation options outside hotels, to corporate buyers and consumers alike. And alternative accommodation providers such as our serviced apartment and aparthotel sector have benefited.
So we can only thank them for that!
But here comes the ‘but’! homeshare platforms have increasingly been accused of complacency, as one moves towards a multi-billion IPO – on the back, basically, of connecting hosts and guests to buy and sell each other bed nights.
As an Association proudly representing a growing sector of hospitality, we have long contended that it should be about so much more than simply providing rooms. We should always keep the guest at the absolute forefront of everything. It’s literally about someone’s head on a pillow, their quality of sleep, providing a stay that is comfortable and safe, and giving the consumer, or the travel buyer, the very best service and experience.
But Airbnb really is having a bad week!
First, it hit the UK media for apartments listed by get-rich-quick tenants in the private rental sector, who never intended to live in a property but immediately let it through the platform in direct contravention of the (unwitting) landlord’s mortgage conditions and insurances. Not a new story. But Airbnb was criticised for refusing to get involved, and pushing responsibility back onto the lettings agent.
Then a US listing saw five deaths following a shooting at a party house. This time Airbnb did get involved, with a welcome announcement of a task force to investigate one-night lets for large properties, especially during a holiday season.
And then, only yesterday, it was called out once again. This time by ‘Vice News’, for hosting multiple listings which were blatantly scams. Where guests were either rerouted at the last minute to properties nothing like their original choices, or left completely out of pocket and looking for somewhere to stay, in a panic.
And this time, Airbnb has already acted.
For the first time in eleven years of operation, it will verify all of its 7 million listings and hosts, to check they actually exist, and to refund guests who have been cheated.
Bingo! Eleven years in, and almost like the most basic kind of Accreditation!
It’s not only Airbnb letting guests down, by any means. The same listings are often also found on other OTAs, Booking.com, Expedia and others. Any traveller, especially one new to the homestay sector, may well believe their booking is legitimate and in some way guaranteed. After all, they’re able to view dozens of professional-standard photographs and read apparently real reviews on a smart-looking website. Why should they question it?
Even as a seasoned traveller and working for decades in the industry, I have been caught out. I once booked a penthouse apartment with stunning views over Barcelona via one of the major OTA’s – hang on, what could have gone wrong? Did I press the wrong button? Why have we been given this basement flat with no windows? And could we find anyone who could be bothered to speak to us? You probably know the answer to that! Oh hang on, ‘the images shown are for illustrative purposes only’… Right!!!!
We’ve developed our own Accreditation for our Members to ensure the consumer can stay with any of them with confidence. And some of our Members list properties themselves on the major OTAs, including those mentioned here. Why not? It’s another route to market, and more than half of all Booking.com listings, for instance, are currently for apartments of some sort.
The difference is, however, it’s a condition of ASAP Membership that they meet, as an absolute minimum, the kind of things that Airbnb is only now going to start rolling out.
Airbnb has announced three main tranches of reform that will improve the guest experience; to review every home and host on Airbnb, by December 2020; to refund the whole cost of a booking if “accuracy standards” aren’t met; and to launch a contact phone line which will always be manned, in case there are issues.
I started this blog by thanking the sharing economy for the work it did in opening up the sector, allowing others into the alternative accommodations space. Now I feel it’s nice to be able to give them something back; a great example in terms of putting the guest first, so their own listings can see their guests staying with confidence.