Oh Airbnb, where did all the love go?

Airbnb is a great idea: instead of renting a poorly appointed holiday house, you’re hosted in someone’s actual home. Sometimes they’re there too and you use a spare room; sometimes they graciously vacate the premises and leave you to it. It’s a ‘share economy’ concept: you share in resources that are already available.

The clue that Airbnb is supposed to be different from soulless hotel rooms or generic holiday houses is the use of the word host: “a person who receives or entertains guests” (according to the Oxford Dictionary). These are real homes and so everything home-y is there: towels, linen, pantry basics, a kitchen with proper utensils (as opposed to the blunt knives and warped frypans you’ll find in a rented holiday home).

In the early days of Airbnb, the host would even stock the fridge for you. It all started out with
the best of intentions, but the honeymoon is definitely over. Recently, I stayed in an Airbnb in
South East Queensland. This holiday town seems to have embraced the Airbnb concept enthusiastically – and then marched it straight back to the past, where you rent out meanly
furnished holiday shacks that don’t have cheese graters.

The clue? There’s weirdness going on that wouldn’t go on if someone actually lived there.
For example: a loft bedroom with a doorless ensuite, and a shower recess that’s only big enough for
a small child.

Not enough towels. Empty pantry (nary a sachet of sugar), a barren fridge and unfilled ice trays
(MYO, suckers). But the real clue was our host, Sue*. In all the correspondence prior to our check-in, she had cheerily implored us (complete with exclamation point) to contact her via mobile: “Please don’t hesitate to contact me!” Contact her we did – straight through to voicemail. 48 hours later,
we called her again, whereupon she told us she hadn’t answered it the first time because she “didn’t
recognise the number”.

She had a lot of properties on the go, she explained, so it took a while for her to get a handle on which house we were actually in. She couldn’t give us extra towels (sorry!) but advised us to use the
beach towels that were in the laundry. Face washers and hand towels?

She couldn’t get those to us either, sorry! Extra blankets? Now we were just being demanding.
But the final kicker was the instructions we received upon leaving. We were to empty all rubbish bins, strip all the beds and wash the extra beach towels we had used – on a short cycle.

So we sent her an invoice for all the cleaning we did on exit, which was about the same as the cleaning fee she was going to charge back to us. We called it square and implored her to contact us if she had any questions, any questions at all. We also put the beach towels on a cotton plus pre-wash cycle, one hour and 55 minutes. Thanks Sue, two stars!


Until the properties listed become a business…which appears to be the case in the example you present. Real estate agents are also known to advertise holiday lets they manage, running ‘homes’ no differently to other properties they manage.

When run as a business, ‘hosts’ will minimise their service (offering) to maximise their financial returns. The personal touch is also devoid.

When run as a hobby or a bit of cash on the side (which it used to be and still some properties where this is the case), the host’s can be a very different experience. It is hard to know who are ‘businesses’ and who are a traditional ‘host’…and what type of service one will get during the let.


Yes, the personal touches were what set Airbnb apart. Sadly this appears to be the case in fewer and fewer places. The on-arrival treats were often something I looked forward to. Current cancellation policies are more often more favourable at hotels than Airbnb and similar.


I lost my enthusiasm for Airbnb when I received notifications that the apartment I’d hired in Brazil was ready. Not only had I not hired it, I wasn’t even in Brazil.

I tried to work my through the Airbnb ‘help’ to try and work out what was going on: and found that the only help available seemed to be automated systems trying to avoid the possibility of me actually interacting with any human employee of Airbnb. In the end I did the only thing left open to me: I deleted my Airbnb account :frowning:


Penny, I feel your pain.

To give you another side of the coin, I have been an AirBNB super host for the last 9 years (until Daniel Andrews’ repeated lockdowns finally killed my business).

AirBNB is singularly the worst customer service provider to owners there is.

We had guests stay and destroy a recently purchased $2200 sofa-bed and AirBNB in their ‘generosity’ with no correspondence entered into (and all by email of course) gave us $1196. In spite of the fact that our property is a 2 hour drive from Melbourne, they refused to reimburse any freight to get a replacement to us. Perhaps they think we have a truck and 4 hours to spare??

I can give you many more examples - that’s just the worst. But with AirBNB charging nearly 15% commission and providing next to no customer service to owners, there’s not a lot of love for owners share with guests …

If I can make a recommendation, keep all of your money in Australia and contact the property directly. Certainly use the AirBNB website to do research, but you can nearly always find the property via other means. And then everyone wins and an owner worth their salt will give you a discount if you book directly :slight_smile:


If Airbnb find out about deals on the side, they’ll be ejected from the platform


Many properties are advertised on alternative booking platforms…and bookings are managed over multiple platforms, to prevent double bookings, through a channel manager.

With Airbnb, specific property details aren’t allowed in the property advertisement and onIy provided to a guest when a booking is confirmed. This method used by Airbnb is to limit leakage to other booking platforms (e.g. able to search for better deals elsewhere for the same property or to contact host directly and ask for a better deal) so they can maximise their own revenue.


Our impression of AirBNB when it first evolved was no more than an alternate Bed and Breakfast booking site. One that in letting out part of a home generated occasional extra income.

BnB as shorthand is synonymous with a Bed and Breakfast. Clearly AirBNB played on this while offering something non traditional - different. Perhaps it should rename itself to be what it is. Is it now just an online booking agent, mostly for people running short term rentals and accommodation as a full time business?

The power of the Gig Economy to redefine the meaning of words and terms in previous common usage!


Well I did many deals with guests over the years (none of which I regret, as most of the business they gained with me AirBNB did so by ‘hijacking’ my property name on Google) and now that AirBNB is run by unnamed, unidentifiable foreign call centre staff, they’re not terribly across what happens in the real world.


Are you saying that AirBNB paid you for some of those customers? Or did AirBNB get nothing.

Is AirBNB acting lawfully in accordance with Australian Competition Law if it is offering access to a service it has no agreement to provide? A similar question may be asked of AirBNB restricting direct dealing depending on how it comes about.

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For the sake of the exercise, let’s say my property is called Shalom (not I’m not Jewish, it’s just an example) and I own the URL shalom.com

On Google, if you type in Shalom, you don’t get my property as the number 1 search result … You get AirBNB’s listing for Shalom, and if you click on that and book, AIrBNB make their 15%.

The actual Shalom.com listing is 4th or 5th down the page. The reason that AirBNB is number 1 in the search results is that they bid the most money to ‘hijack’ my property name.

So that’s why I feel not a hint of guilt if I find a way to bypass AirBNB and not pay their rip-off 15% commission when they stole my business in the first place!!


And FWIW, I have written to Google to ask them to stop AirBNB (and the other aggregators) from doing this and they basically say ‘tough rocks’. They wouldn’t do anything where they would make less money, whether it’s fair or not …


AirBNB pay for the privilege. If the owner of a website pays the search engine sufficient funds, the ranking in the listing can be elevated higher on the search results. This is the commercial reality of the internet.

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I am also an Airbnb Super Host and have not had any problems dealing with Airbnb - they have responded quickly and positively to sort things out, though I have not had to make any insurance claims or dispute payments etc. The fee they charge hosts is about 3% (significantly lower than Booking.com at 20%) and for this they handle all bookings, guarantee payments,offer some insurance cover and check references. I know the fee for guests is higher (about 14%).
As for the love… our Airbnb is a separate apartment beneath our home, and it is fully equipped (including a cheese grater!) and stocked. We provide all linen, a breakfast hamper, a bottle of wine, bath bombs, chocolates, snacks and much more, and are only a few steps or a phone call away if needed.
My advice to would-be guests? Read the reviews and make a pre-booking enquiry if you have any questions.


I think you’ll find you don’t have any problems because you don’t live onsite.

When you’re offsite, more things happen and AirBNB are more poorly equipped to deal with them.

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No issues with the commercial reality of the internet per se, but when I own a property and I own the name (registered business name), no-one else should be able to come up first in search results for that property name. Even Google’s own rules say this is not permitted. But it happens and it happened in my situation constantly. So if I can rip off AirBNB, I will. Because they’re ripped me off blind, more than once.

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If you have ever listed or currently list your property with a booking platform, information about your property will be in their website/platform metadata used in internet searches. If one searches for accommodation in a particular area, the metadata will contribute to the internet search results.

You will find that when using a booking platform, their terms and conditions agreed to on listing allows them to use the data/information collected from businesses/owners/hosts using their platforms.

The only way to avoid this is to never deal with any booking platform, have a highly unique business name and pay for this unique business name to be pushed up the various internet search results. One may also need to pay for traditional marketing to make one’s business be known to others.


I’m sure they have a million little ‘ways we can rip you off without you knowing’ clauses hidden in their small print. It doesn’t make it ethical.

We got very close to being able to do without AirBNB altogether. We were doing more than 50% of our business through our own website and the rest via repeat business (which after 9 years was working well for us) and 10-15% each through AirBNB, HomeAway and booking.com. And yes we had a highly unique name.

So we did everything we could to avoid this issue, but in the end Chairman Dan’s repeated lockdowns did us in. Having to call guests and ask them to re-book for the 4th time was just a bridge too far.

But my ill-will towards AirBNB remains. They are no better than any of the aggregators and worse than many.


Booking platforms are a necessary ‘evil’ to function in the accommodation industry. They do increase awareness of an accommodation business at a cost…with their commissions. From our own experience and speaking to others also in the industry, room rates have increased to cover for these commissions. Guests effective pay for the convenience of using such platforms.

As a result, many offer incentives with direct (e.g phone or email) bookings (discounts, gifts, upgrades etc) as a result…and why it is recommended to approach a provider directly (phone or email) to get the best rates.

Providers won’t necessarily post best rates on their websites as the platforms trawl the internet looking for price discrepancies which may breach the lowest price requirements in their T&Cs.


Thank you for finishing with the most important message. Get in touch with the venue directly and keep all of your money in Australia!