Airbnb Just Got Pasted by the New York Times Travel Guru

You may run into a paywall.

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Thank you for sharing this.

The author says this:

" . . . in my dozens of Airbnb stays over the years, it has always been the individual hosts that stand out. I have long wished Airbnb would include a feature allowing travelers to filter listings by whether the hosts are the property owners themselves. But only in looking into your case did I realize Airbnb already requires all hosts worldwide to declare themselves either an individual or a company “to comply with E.U. consumer protection law.”

My gut is that he is right about individual hosts standing out.

But I disagree that the distinction between declaring yourself with Airbnb an ‘individual host’ OR a ‘professional host’ is helpful to the prospective Airbnb guest. Many – what we would call individual Hosts – might have incorporated for liability or tax reasons. The income we generate might well be our primary source of income. So we might be professional Hosts but, in spirit, individual Hosts.

I wonder what the distinction should be that would give the prospective guest valuable information about the kind of property and service the guest is renting. One distinction might be whether the Host lives on the property. Another might be whether the Host is managing the property, is the one responding to messages, dealing with service issue, setting standards, etc. [This could get a little fuzzy if someone wanted to try a workaround by hiring a management company as co-Host.]

Anyway, I wonder if folks here agree with the thrust of the author’s comment above, and what information/distinctions would be valuable for Airbnb/VRBO etc to provide to prospective guests on who the Host is and their involvement.

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I’d love to read it but there’s a paywall

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And, segueing from another thread, if the individual host becomes ill, it seems they have to do a host cancel with a resulting Airbnb penalty. Management companies don’t get sick.

Of course, the company wants the branding of a personal, homey experience plus the efficiency, standardization (operational, not ambience), and reliability of a hotel.

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Here’s the article. The vast majority of comments on the article bash the platform, and complain that Airbnb customer service always takes the host’s side.

Help! I Was Catfished by My Airbnb Host and the Place Was a Mess

A first-time Airbnb user believed he’d be getting personal service from the owner of a London flat, but “she” was actually a managing company using a fake photo — and falling down on the job.

Up,

In July, my daughter, my partner and I spent a week in London in an $800-a-night rental flat we found on Airbnb. It was my first time using the company, and, as suggested, I sent a note to our host “Emily,” telling her about our trip. By the time we left for London, there was a second host listed, but the profile picture was still (we thought) of Emily. “Emily and Tony” instructed us to pick up the keys at a convenience store that worked with KeyNest, a company that facilitates secure transfer of keys. But the keys weren’t there, so we called our host’s contact number and were connected with a representative of Houst, which turned out to be a company that manages the apartment for the owner, which turned out to be another company called Silverbird Properties. When we asked the Houst representative if he could run over an extra set of keys, he told us he could not — he was in Portugal.

After almost three hours waiting on a somewhat dodgy street with our suitcases, our keys finally arrived. But the apartment was not as advertised: Among other things, the elevator was broken and had been for months, the bathroom was moldy and the shower was stopped up with a thicket of human hair I removed (ick) from the drain. After our stay I wrote to Airbnb requesting one day’s rental back — about $900 total with fees. Airbnb told me Houst had at first agreed to the refund but then reneged, claiming I had never returned the keys. (I did return them, to the same convenience store.) I believe I deserve that day’s rent refunded, but I also want Airbnb to make the listing clear for others that the property is managed by a third-party company operating on the cheap posing as someone named Emily. Can you help? Jim, Bethesda, Md.

Dear Jim,

Hearing from a first-time Airbnb user is a breath of fresh air: I’ve used Airbnb regularly enough to have normalized how absurd it is that the face smiling out at you from countless host profiles is often not the owner but a commercial representative or property manager aiming to look as though they are welcoming you to their cozy home.

The svelte, swimsuit-clad blonde in the photo is not Emily, a bit of digging reveals, but a former girlfriend of the Hamburg-based photographer Patrick Pilz. He told me via email that he captured her posing in a swimming pool in Bali, posted it on his Instagram in 2014 and made it available as a free stock photo on the site StockSnap. It has since been used across the internet.

More digging revealed that there is a real Emily — she is a “Global Client Onboarding Lead” at Houst, a property management company that, though based in London, has customer service representatives anywhere from Portugal, as you found out, to South Africa, as I found out when I called and tried, in vain, to get them to talk to me. (The company also did not respond to emails and LinkedIn messages; Emily did not respond to a personal Instagram message.)

I’m not sure who Tony is, nor whether it was Emily or Tony who was writing to you, since they signed missives as representatives of Silverbird Properties, LLP, an entity run by a man named Vinodh Coomaraswamy, who is (what else) a justice on the lower tier of the Supreme Court of Singapore.

But before we get back to this web of entities posing as a woman in a swimsuit, let’s get to your money. I tried to get proof from KeyNest that you did return the keys — as if there was any doubt after you sent me geotagged photos taken when you returned the keys at 7:39 on the morning you departed. But Florian Hoven, a KeyNest co-founder, said that providing proof would be tricky, because their systems are built around keeping key transactions as private as possible; they do not even know which accounts are connected to Houst or Airbnb.

It turned out not to be necessary. Though Airbnb didn’t respond to most questions I sent to them, they did explain in a statement why you were not initially refunded: their consumer protection policy — rebranded and revised in 2022 as AirCover — requires guests to report problems within 72 hours of when they occur. But they did agree to refund $918 to you “as a courtesy.” I can only surmise that Airbnb will extend this goodwill to all customers, but just in case I’m wrong, travelers should report issues to Airbnb as soon as possible to meet the 72-hour requirement.

The Airbnb statement also included a semi-admission that the host had done something wrong. “We maintain high quality and service expectations for our Hosts, and in this case we have recently taken appropriate action to enforce our Host Standards.” It did not specify the action taken, but the apartment you rented is no longer listed and the photo on Emily’s other listings has been changed.

Now let’s get back to what I think is the bigger issue: the near-total lack of transparency over Airbnb hosts.

Airbnb has long touted its service as a way to “live like a local” and stay in a real person’s home. In a post from the company last month featuring feedback from travelers who had been chosen to participate in its yearlong Live Anywhere on Airbnb program, one of three key findings was: “A positive, long-term trip experience usually involved an attentive Host and as such, access to the local community and recommendations.”

A professional host or a hosting company can, in theory, provide such an experience, but in my dozens of Airbnb stays over the years, it has always been the individual hosts that stand out. I have long wished Airbnb would include a feature allowing travelers to filter listings by whether the hosts are the property owners themselves. But only in looking into your case did I realize Airbnb already requires all hosts worldwide to declare themselves either an individual or a company “to comply with E.U. consumer protection law.”

In fact, thanks to an effort spearheaded by the Norwegian Consumer Authority, the European Commission extracted a commitment out of Airbnb in 2018 under which it agreed to follow European consumer regulations and clearly identify “whether an offer is made by a private host or by a professional” among other things.

Alas, the results — only available when the guest searches on a European web domain like .ie for Ireland or .it for Italy — are inconsistent at best. Research by Inside Airbnb, a data project that is critical of the company, found that only 11 percent of Italian listings were denoted as a “professional host” — almost certainly far fewer than there actually are. I logged into Airbnb.com through a VPN that disguised my IP address as coming from Madrid and thus got European listings, I could not find any “Professional host” demarcations on any of the rentals I looked at — including the listing for the apartment you rented. Airbnb declined to answer any of my questions on the topic of host identity.

It is often possible, however, to figure out whether any particular Airbnb listing is owner-hosted. Some companies actually list their company name as host — kudos to them. And you can often tell from the photos or the description’s personal feel that the host is the owner. If that fails, scroll all the way down to the host profile at the bottom; sometimes it will show a link to their other properties — a sign a company is likely involved. When it doesn’t, as in the case of your rental, Jim, check if the total number of reviews the property you’re looking at has received matches the number the host has received.

If it’s a mismatch, you can find the other listings on the host’s home page by taking the far-from-intuitive step of clicking on their profile picture, whether it’s of them or of the German photographer’s ex-girlfriend they’ve uploaded instead.

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I’m a NYT subscriber. I’m gifting the article. Here’s the link:

Oops! I didn’t see this before I gifted the link.

Thank you.

There’s a really simple way to tell if the place you book is what it presents itself -

  1. Most important - read the reviews and they must be current

  2. Look for superhosts

  3. Look at the actual rating.

My first reaction to an article in the NYT,actually any article they print, would be that they are probably lying. Specially when I read - “The vast majority of comments on the article bash the platform, and complain that Airbnb customer service always takes the host’s side.” That re-iterates my suspicion about most of what NYT prints since that statement is so absurd; but got the poputalist responses.

What is the likelihood of the author, using Airbnb the first time mind, gets caught in the web of international mission-impossible intrigue as to who owns or really represents the listing he just happened to pick and right on cue turns out to be a bomb? About zero. What was this really about, an expose how evil Airbnb is?

I think this article started with an ill intent and then the ‘facts’ were fabricated to reinforce a juicy click-bait narrative. None the less it was very ‘entertaining’, in a twisted way.

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there’s not a paywall, just sign up via facebook/whatever and then say “no thanks” to subscribing, and then skip a few more pages and then the article is revealed.

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yes, this is sad but true about the grand old lady. she contracted a nasty case of TDS and hasn’t really recovered. I’m really curious to see how the woke half of their stable cover the death of Her Maj, hopefully they’ll be able to show actual respect.

Anyhoo, yes this story boils down to “buyer beware”. Unscrupulous operators are everywhere, even on airbnb, but this article suggesting that abb sides with hosts more often is just so ill informed and out of touch, spinning a narrative to get clicks. That should be the on the masthead of the NYT, or most media agencies. Clearly Airbnb doesn’t advertise with the NYT or this story would never have run at all.

And that sums up what the media in general has become.

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I cannot begin to fathom all the inaccuracies and more importantly all the sad conspiracy commentary that red-hatted folks dispense. At least you are now ‘outed’…

Sorry that’s not right if an individual host gets ill we cancel penalty free through EC. And most of us have cleaners and other local support that can support if we are not available.

Airbnb management companies in my country mainly only operate during office hours and are slow to respond to emergencies outside these times.

A huge number of travelers prefer a property management company and believe they are more professional with better oversight. And they think that by dealing with a pm there will be other options in case of a property issues. The travel industry promotes this ludicrous belief and encourages all bookings only be made through a pm and not an owner….thus enabling this multi country conglomerate as well as vacasa and others. Airbnb wants the corporations - there are was no action taken in the long haul of policies. It is all the fault of Airbnb for their failure to educate travelers, on this topic plus many others. Their goal is heads in beds by hook or crook no questions asked.

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