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Airbnb for a Shonky

Airbnb put profit ahead of customers. They say that their goal is to create a community where anyone can belong everywhere, but that goal obstructs with their ability to profit. Airbnb are about to undertake an IPO. They turned over more than USD 1B in the last quarter, but customer service is the last of their concerns. Here are the reasons why they should be nominated for a Shonky:

  1. They advertise 24/7 service to help with “travel issues”. They outsource their customer service to the Phillipines where responses in my experience take over 24 hours, in over 90% of the times recorded.
  2. Airbnb does not follow its advertised Terms. For example in my experience Airbnb thought that the presence of blood and soiled sanitary pads in the bathroom do not constitute a “Travel Issue” when their Terms clearly state minimum sanitary standards for hosts to comply with. Getting a refund in accordance with their Terms or in accordance with Australian Consumer Law is not easy if at all possible without taking them to a tribunal.
  3. They misrepresent guest reviews to fluff low standard accommodation. This allows them to make more money from fees. Have you noticed that Airbnb do not list reviews in chronological order? They do this to hide or remove bad reviews. This distorts the ratings also because hosts have to maintain a minimum rating. Airbnb help them to maintain this rating by removing valuable customer ratings. When I contacted Airbnb to discuss this, they refused to provide me with a response.
  4. Airbnb fabricate host response rates. I booked accommodation where the host had a 99% response rate within the hour. On not one of my many correspondences did the host respond within an hour. Some of the responses took longer than weeks. It got so bad that Airbnb had to intervene. The 99% response rate did not change.
  5. Airbnb do not do anything about breaches to Minimum Standards. Airbnb state in the terms that hosts must provide minimum standards including access to clean sheets and essentials. They knowingly list properties that breach those standards. I have contacted Airbnb about this. They have not yet provided a response.

Airbnb do not comply with their own terms or with Australian Consumer Law. They are only interested in making money and do not take guest safety seriously. Airbnb should be in the running for a shonky.

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HI Susie. Welcome to the Forum.

You have made a number of claims against Airbnb. Would you be able to provide more information and references? I am not saying you, or Airbnb, are right or wrong. I am merely suggesting that you support your statements with evidence.

For example:

So this is just your experience or did you get the statistic from somewhere (if so please cite reference).

Was this a communal bathroom or a private bathroom that had not been cleaned before you arrived? If it’s a communal bathroom, I agree it’s not an issue. If it is a private bathroom for your personal use that has not been cleaned, that is an issue.

What do you base your opinion on that this is a deliberate action to improve some host’s ratings?

Perhaps it just takes time for the system to update? How long after the event have you waited to check whether the stats changes?

Were your claims reasonable? Did you provide evidence to Airbnb with your complaint? Again, how long have you waited for a response?

Perhaps you could give us a brief background to when and where these events happened, what you did to let Airbnb know you were unhappy, and what specific reponses you got from Airbnb?

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Hi @susan1.

Welcome to the forum and it appears that you have had a bad experience(s) with AirBnb. It would be good to know more about your experience such as that outlined by @meltam.

Maybe there is a user setting, but just checking AirBnd website, the reviews at my end are in chronological order.

Just wondering if you used this to try and get a refund. It appears to be a cleaning issue of the host rather than possibly the responsibility of AirBnb. Remember AirBnb is a booking agent and does not own or operate the accommodation on their platform.

Did you stay at the accommodation in question? And when did you let them (hostand AirBnb) know about the cleanliness? Was there anything else wrong with the accommodation?

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Hi @meltam and @phb, thank you for taking the time to review this post. I address your comments below:

  1. The data was recorded by me based on my experience with Airbnb. There are over 34 out of 37 responses that took over 24 hours.

  2. This was a private bathroom. Regardless, even public toilets have OHS standards to meet. These standards depend on the region. Blood is generally considered to be a biohazard. One can contract Hepatitis A through blood for example. Most importantly Airbnb have minimum standards a host must meet.This is their value proposition to the market. https://www.airbnb.com.au/trust/standards. These standards also comply with Australian Consumer Law. Booking agents are not exempt from complying with ACL. https://www.accc.gov.au/system/files/Travel%20%26%20accommodation%20-%20an%20industry%20guide%20to%20the%20Australian%20Consumer%20Law_0.pdf.

  3. Airbnb has removed a number of reviews for this location <choice removed 3rd link> look up Lato Lato resort Malaysia. You can also audit the review dates. They have not been listed in chronological order. For example, we relied on those reviews but only later realised that Airbnb had not listed the reviews in chronological order and had in fact been scattering the negative reviews. After we posted a review, they removed it. Since posting a review, I have observed the removal of 3 other negative reviews for this listing. The only conclusion is that they are doing this to distort the star ratings because Airbnb have a minimum star rating for hosts. This condition can be found in their terms. I have asked Airbnb to comment on this but they don’t.

  4. It has been over a month. The review appeared immediately and then was removed. I watched other reviews disappear also. I should have taken screen shots but I did not. If these systems are built to provide transparent ratings, the star rating should be calculated as the median value of the data they collect. A user should be able to see the distribution of star ratings as you can with Google Reviews. This distribution allows consumers to audit the star ratings and also to match the number of star ratings with written reviews. I also note that according to ACL (above link), a business (including a booking agent) cannot make misrepresentations of user reviews.

  5. Airbnb have, after a lot of work, agreed that the minimum standards were not met. Airbnb was provided with photographic evidence from the time of check in. They did not follow their terms however. Although Airbnb have agreed that minimum standards were not met, they continue to misrepresent the above listing which will affect other travellers. They have allowed other misrepresentations in the past - so this isn’t my first negative experience with Airbnb. Given that they follow automated operational procedures, this unlikely to be an isolated case.

  6. @phb I have asked Airbnb to comment on the fact that they do not provide reviews in chronological order. They acknowledge that they don’t do that all the time. Did you see a toggle button that allows listings in chronological order? Are you sure you observed listings in chronological order? Send me the link to the listing and I will review it. It may be that generally positive listings do get displayed in chronological order - this would be interesting.

  7. The points that consumers should take away is that online booking agents like Airbnb must comply with ACL. See the ACCC link above. Airbnb have set out terms that do appear to comply with ACL. Airbnb are also legally obligated to comply with the terms stated on their website and to deliver the service and product that they advertised. If you buy a Samsung TV from Kogan and it is faulty, you go through Kogan to seek a refund. The same occurs with Airbnb or any booking agent. Airbnb state that all hosts are to provide minimum standards. If those hosts make misrepresentations then guests will be remedied according to their terms. In my case this did not occur. Not only did they not follow their terms with regard to seeking a remedy, they also have continued to list a property that they know breaches their minimum standards. Further they have removed and scattered negative reviews for this listing. Airbnb are thus complicit in making misrepresentations for the property. This contravenes ACL for a booking agent.

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Just checked this particular accommodation on Airbnb.

It appears that the English written ones come first (these are sorted in chronological order) and followed afterwards by non-English (principally Mandarin) reviews thereafter. These Mandarin reviews are also in chronological order, but start after about the 6th English written review.

One has to remember that the accommodation is in Malaysia, where the standards are quite different to that in Australia.

Blood can be a issue, however, how do you know it was blood and not another fliud (such as tomato or chilli sauce for example).

As the room was in a resort type complex, did you apporach the resort operator after entering the room advising that it had not be satisfactorily cleaned. When using Airbnb, the host’s details are provided with the booking and being a resort type complex, the host is likely to be the operator/manager of the resort.

If one had stayed, say in a similar resort in Australia, I would expect that the managers/operator would have been contacted after first entering the room. This would have given the operator/manager an opportunity to investigate the cleanliness and take action if and where necessary.

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@phb “how do you know it was blood” - lol - soiled sanitary pads on the ground, blood in the toilet etc. It was blood. Nobody at the “resort” or at Airbnb is disagreeing with that. The “resort” just refused to clean it.

Regarding the chronology of listings, this is what I am seeing now: ie not in chronological order. The order seems to be cycling through as I see a different chronology most times I look. Again, Airbnb do not state that they list reviews chronologically and they are not stating how or why their method is not transparent like Google’s. https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/11669517?source_impression_id=p3_1570750922_%2FuzCRNPE2tthKxic

Daniel

March 2019

Mei

November 2018

Thomas

December 2017

Lei

November 2016

Lisa

August 2019

Zhuo

July 2019

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@phb “One has to remember that the accommodation is in Malaysia, where the standards are quite different to that in Australia.”

This is not in accordance with Airbnb’s terms. Airbnb do not have different terms for different countries. Also, unsanitary accommodations in Malaysia are not the norm. ACL is all about what is being represented. Airbnb’s terms are also all about what is being represented.

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I followed your link and saw, as did @phb, that the native English reviews were in chronological order but from 2016 they started again in other languages although a google translate option was prominent.

What I found uncomfortable is that the reviews are just ‘reviews’ with a summary. I could not see any way to find or read, say 5 star, 4 star, 3 star, 2 star, or 1 star reviews or to identify them. I searched on a range of words such as ‘poor’ and ‘bad’ and only a single hit, and ‘bad’ in context was not exactly bad. Most of the reviews are unsurprisingly in Asian languages and those I spot checked are as the English ones, all glowing.

It defies the imagination that everybody is awed by how good the venue is and nobody has ever been dissatisfied if they are to be believed as all the reviews ever made. Perhaps the search fails as it probably does not search Chinese characters for English words, although one might not expect it to.

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As I have noted elsewhere from an older article (2017) about how it can occur that a guest does not get a clear way to respond:

" By providing more information for hosts — they can see both the reviews about the guest and the reviews the guest has written — AirBnB’s rating system actually provides less information for guests! Guests respond to their incentives by only leaving positive reviews. Hosts respond to their incentives by only renting to guests who leave positive reviews. So average ratings remain very high and can potentially be misleading.
…//…
So, the next time you use a service like AirBnB, don’t just accept the host’s average rating at face value. Remember the information asymmetry problems, AirBnB’s solution to them, and the behaviors that leads to: unhappy guests tend to leave no reviews rather than bad reviews"

Basically if you wish to continue being able to use AirBnB as a guest you have to give high ratings to a host or the next host is unlikely to offer you a place. If a host gets too many low reviews they are removed by AirBnB:

" This is why experiences that have one or more low-star reviews and a low review rating may fall below our quality and eligibility threshold, and may be removed from the marketplace.

What leads to an experience being removed from the marketplace?

We understand that building a business is a journey and things are not always perfect right off the bat. This is why the criteria for removal takes into account whether an experience is new or more established.

  • A new experience with 20 or fewer reviews may be removed if it receives one or more 1-, 2- or 3-star reviews for 3 separate instances.
  • An established experience with more than 20 reviews may be removed if its average rating falls at or below 4.7"

A guest therefore is more likely to give a high review if they wish to continue to receive offerings in the future. I don’t think it would be surprising given those rules and what the article mentions that what mostly are seen are glowing reviews.

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These are all great points.

I note this comment “So, the next time you use a service like AirBnB, don’t just accept the host’s average rating at face value”.

This is exactly the point. According to ACL consumers expect to rely on ratings. These ratings cannot misrepresent the accommodation. If the ratings and the listing does misrepresent the accommodation then Airbnb legally must comply with its own Terms and that of ACL.

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@susan1, thanks the detailed recount of your experience. I’ll be sure to pass this on to our travel team and consider your Shonky nomination counted :+1:

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Not wishing to put a damper on things, but I wonder if the ACL does apply in this case. (I am not sure, so I am asking the questions.) The reason I am wondering is due to the geographic distribution involved in the purchase:

  • the booking was made in Australia
  • I’m not sure where in the world Airbnb processed the payment, but probably not in Australia,
  • your stay was at the Lato Lato Resort, was in Malaysia, and
  • the payment when released by Airbnb to the host ended up in Malaysia.

I am thinking that you should go to your local Department of Fair Trading/Consumer Affairs and put in a complaint. Use the ACL as you have outlined above as the basis for your complaint. They can then tell you whether the ACL applies due to the international nature of your complaint.

Two other things to try are:

  1. try getting the credit card payment reversed via your credit card provider
  2. use social media to complain about a) the accommodation the resort provided and b) about Airbnb’s lack of assistance

The link

didn’t work for me, but I did find the site and had a look at the reviews. Yours was the top one, and then all the others were in reverse chronological order with the newest at the front. I went back half a dozen or so pages and it was consistent.

Good luck with it.

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Quite the contrary. Each country has its own regulations or standards in relation to to quality of buildings and accommodation types. AirBnb has its own minimum standard such as places must be safe and as advertised etc…which you have provided links to above. These standards do offer a wide latitude to cover a wide range of accommodation types.

Accommodation in say Malaysia can’t be seen as being the same as that in Australia (e.g. even local hotel standards and offerings can change from country to country). It is also worth noting that many countries are now regulating short term accommodation providers (that being those who offer their accommodation up for short term rental) to provide a consistency and minimum standard in relation to what will be accepted locally. Some local governments also require special local licensing and special conditions (e.g. carbon monoxide detectors or bed taxes) which may not be present in other areas.

AirBnb is a booking platform an the the operator or manager of the listed accommodation. Using such platforms has risks, some of which are outlined in Choice’s review of AirBnb…

If there is a problem, did you try and contact the host on your arrival so that the host could make good, what appears on face value to be, a poorly serviced unit at the complex. If one was staying in any other form of accommodation (e.g. a local hotel), one would usually present at or contact the reception and raise one’s concerns immediately after checking in.

When we have used AirBnb in the past, the local contact details for the accommodation host is provided and this could be an individual or owner or the main reception of a multi-unit accommodation complex. Immediately contacting the host removes any doubt in relation to ones claims that the accommodation, for example, hasn’t been cleaned since the previous occupant.

I am just wondering if the local host was contacted, to what it appears, before escalating the complaint within AirBnb. To me going to AirBnb would be like escalating an issue with a travel agent who booked the accommodation on ones behalf, before going to reception to seek a resolution.

The last question was when was the complaint made…immediately on arrival meaning you didn’t stay at the accommodation to which you would potentially have a right of refund if you can prove it was not as advertised or meet the basic standards outlined by Airbnb (such as photographs or discussions with local hosts)…or was it made after the stay at the accommodation…this may be more difficult to get a refund as you accepted the condition of the accommodation on arrival and chose to stay there…only later deciding to make a complaint (an analogy would be going to food outlet, thinking the food wasn’t good after ordering and seeing a meal, one decided to eat it anyway thinking that a refund could be obtained even though the meal was eaten).

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Just to clarify on some aspects of the ACL, if you’ve made the purchase in Australia (including online), the law still applies. However, if you’ve purchased from a foreign website, the hard part can be enforcing the law at an individual level. Despite this, if there are enough complaints there might still be further actions available. Airbnb is a big enough company that you shouldn’t (in theory) run into these types of issue. If Fair Trading make a determination, you would expect Airbnb to follow it or face fines or further legal action from the individual.

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I wonder if AirBnB have looked at the reviews and even assessed the premises based on their rules/policy. From the 199 reviews so far it achieves less than the 4.7 but of course AirBnB could use the “may” in the policy to allow keeping the listing. Cleanliness achieves a sub 4 rating in particular. One poor rating out of 199 would not drag the averages that far down.

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