Airbnb Issues & Problems: UNETHICAL or Cause for Concern?

As we all focus on more sustainable travel, some Airbnb ethical issues and Airbnb concerns have been brought to our attention. Let me preface by saying not all Airbnb rentals are a terrible choice! We’ve had some fantastic experiences over the years, met terrific hosts, and had unforgettable stays. We may even use the platform from time to time.

However, as the company continues to grow and fails to earn a profit, we continue to question the legacy of the tech icon. We have several arguments against Airbnb and want to share some of the negative impacts to locals from the platform. As long-time users and very early adopters, we’ve had some bad experiences over the last two years that have led us to question if Airbnb is ethical.

Our best advice for sustainable travelers is to use the platform thoughtfully and consider its impacts on locals. Let’s dig into a few Airbnb issues that are cause for concern.

The Airbnb Coupon Code Has Been Discontinued

If you’ve reached this post in hopes of an Airbnb discount code, we regret to inform you the program has been discontinued. The company has determined its priority is to sign up new hosts, and they no longer consider offering incentives for new users necessary.

Airbnb Service Issues and Concerns

Before we go into the ethical issues we find with Airbnb we’ll chat about how their service issues bring about problems for guests (and hosts!)

Guests Are Charged High Fees

Plan Hawaii Trip - Kauai

When you book a hotel through a booking platform or directly with a hotel, you do not pay any fees outside sales and local taxes. Since hotel businesses receive marketing from booking platforms, they pay a commission to the platform at 10-15%.

However, Airbnb charges guests a hefty fee of 12% for each booking, while hosts pay 3%. That means for every $1,000 you pay, Airbnb charges $120 for the use of their service. It seems like a steep price to pay to a platform that only acts as an intermediary, even more so as more businesses are built around it.

You get little for this fee too. Even if you have a problem with your booking, you will still have to call Airbnb and have a long, drawn-out conversation with them to discuss the difficulties of the Airbnb you booked. You can’t get around this fee either by messaging the hosts and trying to book a place privately as Airbnb blocks and filters out addresses, emails, and phone numbers until money is exchanged.

We’ve recently started finding properties on Airbnb and Googling their names a bit more to see if we can find the property on 95% of the time that we find the property on another booking platform, it is cheaper.

There's a website called HiChee, which will compare platforms if you plug in an Airbnb link. It's not perfect for finding alternatives, but it's a start. 

Cleaning Fees Are Common

Glasgow Scotland

The Airbnb Service fee isn’t the only additional fee guests must pay. Unlike hotels, guesthouses, or hostels, guests must pay to clean the unit they rent. Very few properties charged a cleaning fee when we first started using Airbnb in 2014. Now it’s rare to find a listing without a cleaning fee.

Host listings and Airbnb are businesses that charge for their service and require guests to pay for their cleaning. It feels like paying to clean your table after leaving a restaurant. This can drastically alter the cost per night for an Airbnb, especially for short stays.

It also drives me crazy when I search for Airbnb properties under a specific price point, only to find when I click through to the booking, the hosts tacked on an enormous cleaning fee to make up for their lower price.

For example, if you are looking for an apartment under $100 a night, you can filter through the results to find it more easily. You find the perfect property and are about to book, only to get to the booking page to see a $150 cleaning fee at the end. Hosts commonly use this tactic to lure guests into booking for a lower price, only to be shell-shocked when clicking “book.”

Airbnb Has Become Poor Value

With all the fees, it’s become commonplace for Airbnbs to cost far more than hotels. You receive far fewer amenities for that higher price than a hotel or guesthouse. I also wouldn’t plan on early check-in or late check-outs.

I’ll never forget the day we booked and paid for an Airbnb in Bangkok a night early so we could arrive the next morning after a red-eye flight at 7am, only to receive a negative review from the host about how we “checked in uncomfortably early.” This came from a host in London whom we had never met.

It is worth exploring options for longer stays of a week or more. Airbnbs can be an excellent value for longer stays and a great way to save on accommodation. The added benefit of a kitchen and living room can be a game-changer. However, if you plan to spend most of your days out, the value of an Airbnb becomes very questionable.

Airbnb lacks Quality Control

We were early adopters of Airbnb and would find unforgettable stays. We often found small cottages on farms, charming guest suites, summer homes, and old family apartments that made for amazing stays. However, these days it appears to be more and more about business than a pleasant stay for guests, and this is one of our main Airbnb concerns.

As Airbnb continues to focus on onboarding new hosts and new hosts begin their businesses around the website, the quality has dropped. New property purchases are quickly onboarded to the platform with cheap appliances, useless finishings, and silly oversights.

For example, our last Airbnb in Salt Lake City lacked key features like a colander in the kitchen, a coffee maker, functional knives, and barstools that actually fit the countertops. It’s pretty common for an Airbnb to feature the cheapest kitchen utensils and cheapest Ikea furniture, and for the hosts to never check in on the cleanliness or upkeep of the place. It just needs to look nice in photos, so guests will book immediately.

Unreliable Reviews are an Airbnb issue

Most Airbnb hosts treat their properties as businesses and have become speculative investments. However, guests don’t always view this as a transactional service. This means they forgive oversights for hosts that would never be the case for a hotel.

Uncomfortable bed? No problem! Leaking shower? It’s okay! Broken dishwasher? Forget about it! The number of times user reviews have burned us has gotten out of control. Once people put a name to a face, the reliability of the review goes out the window.

Airbnb Lacks Hospitality

With the advent of websites like FlipKey and the old guards such as vacation management companies, Airbnb can feel very impersonal. Most now utilize self-check-in and fail to even provide local information on the area.

Every Airbnb we used to visit would feature a nice book with local recommendations, but those feel few and far between now. As the Airbnb business continues to grow, many of its hosts have become increasingly distant.

Airbnb Lacks Key Services

Things to do in Osaka

There’s no concierge or local you can go to for questions when staying at an Airbnb. If you forget a toothbrush or need some more shampoo, you’re out of luck.

An Airbnb outside of Nelson, British Columbia, gave us sheets full of long black hair, and we only discovered it as we went to bed the first night. Of course, it was too late to replace the sheets or contact the host, so we slept with only a throw blanket that we had stashed in our car.

Another two rentals failed to provide dish soap or a sponge to wash our dishes for a full kitchen. Next, it will be BYOTP – bring your own toilet paper.

It doesn’t stop there, either. Many rentals are stocked with cheap and/or old furniture that is far from comfortable. It’s great that you may have a couch, but that old futon isn’t too comfortable to enjoy. A bed that’s so old it sags in the middle is reserved for the worst dive motels, but we wouldn’t be surprised to find it on “nice” looking Airbnb for $150+ a night.

Do You Need A Kitchen?

airbnb issues to know

If you’re on a short stay, you’ll want to enjoy some of the local restaurants. While it’s nice to have a kitchen for longer stays, and I love to cook with local products, it’s not always necessary. If you have plans to spend most meals dining out, a kitchen is not all that useful.

Airbnb Ethical Issues

Airbnb Destroys Local Housing Markets

new york city

This may be one of the most important considerations when booking an Airbnb. The short-term rental market has been devastating to many local rental and real estate markets. The high rates visitors are willing to pay have driven many locals from neighborhoods.

As we live in a desirable area of the world, we have first handily seen this happen in our small town too. Properties that would sell for $500,000 five years ago are now listed above $1 Million with taglines like “short-term rental potential!”

Airbnb’s slogan is “travel like a local,” but there isn’t much truth to that message. In many of the most visited cities in the world, like Barcelona, New York, and Lisbon, the local short-term rentals have ruined the livelihood of many locals, forcing them out of the city. While visitors replace locals, it leaves us wondering what “locals” Airbnb refers to in their slogan.

Several trends point to long-term doubt about the company’s legacy. A recent poll for landlords in the U.K. found that nearly 10% are considering switching from long-term tenants to short-term rentals. This would exacerbate a growing affordable housing crisis and wealth divide.

Questionable Legality

The company has admitted that the greatest challenge is local laws and regulations. Many cities and destinations actively fight Airbnb around taxation and the right to operate as they move to protect their constituents.

Many local regulations explicitly outlaw short-term rentals under 30 days or require licensing, like Barcelona, New York, and Bangkok. However, all of those remain some of the top rental markets on the platform. The company pleads the fifth…

Airbnb Has Many Ilegal Sublets

A worrying trend in Australia found that nearly 35% of short-term rentals were illegal sublets. Tenants are violating their lease agreements and racking up multiple rentals to rent on Airbnb without the owner’s knowledge. This may not seem like a significant risk to renters, but it does bring about some Airbnb ethical issues.

Lack of Regulations

airbnb issues

There have been safety concerns around Airbnb, and there is a real disparity between listings. This largely stems from the sharing nature of the platform. Hosts are free to upload to the platform, and after a basic online check, they are approved for listings. This sobering story of a security guard at an Airbnb that murdered a female guest has never left my brain.

No Airbnb representatives come out to inspect the properties or ensure guest satisfaction.

Safety and Privacy Airbnb Issues

airbnb issues

With the lack of regulations and inspections, Airbnb leaves it up to the guests to determine if a place is ready. Over the years, numerous allegations of hosts assaulting or violating guests’ privacy have been made.

Examples include hidden cameras inside the rental and violent crimes against guests, including murder. Granted, as we’ve always said, these are rare circumstances, and travel is typically very safe.

Airbnb Has Poor Customer Service

Airbnb emphasizes the hosts that comprise its platform and not the guests. You can see this through the numerous policies they have implemented over the years.

Guests pay for the service. New users are no longer given a sign-up bonus. They have no regulations for listings on their platform.

airbnb has a bad Business Relationship With Bloggers

While I’m certain most do not care about the company’s relationship with bloggers like ourselves, we certainly care a lot. So, we’re going to spill some tea… At the start of the COVID-19 Pandemic, travel was in very murky water, so the company turned to travel bloggers for help.

They introduced a lucrative affiliate program to drive clicks, garner clout, disperse information, and drive a lot of bookings. Essentially they asked bloggers to promote Airbnbs on their websites and in return bloggers would receive a small commission back. All of this coincided with the company being publically listed on the stock market. The program was a massive success, and everyone generated an income.

Due to the income, many travel bloggers focused their time on producing content around the platform by hiring writers and editors and pouring thousands of hours of work into their sites. Luckily we were focused on another project, which kept us from spending too much time on this, but many others were affected.

Less than a year into the program, they discontinued it with less than 30 days’ notice and stopped responding to emails. They stuck it to many small business owners who helped support them through tough times. You likely won’t see many digital marketers reference Airbnb moving forward.

we Do Love Some Properties

Farmhouse Brittany France Airbnb
Our Quaint Airbnb in Normandy

All that being said, and at the risk of not sounding too negative on these Airbnb issues and prblems, some of our favorite stays and experiences of all time have come from Airbnb! Almost all of them also come from what Airbnb should (and used to) be though, great interactions with the host at a meaningful place.

We repeatedly found something in the platform’s early days and less so now. We’d feel awful to speak discouragingly of the hosts who have opened their doors to us over the years.

Our Airbnb in the Scottish Countryside

They have been outstanding examples and made our trips immensely enjoyable. We’ve enjoyed a small room above a Japanese cafe, an old farmhouse in the French countryside, a picnic with an older Irish woman on the Irish coast, and a gorgeous live-in-suite with friendly hosts in Utah.

airbnb coupon code that works
Our Airbnb in Japan

There is also a strong argument that the sharing economy does benefit locals in certain communities. It can help support small business owners and drive tourists to regions that could benefit from their dollars. If tax dollars are collected, they can also service public service programs that benefit the community.

Even in North America, it’s tough to argue against a family renting out their live-in-suite for additional income over visitors giving their money to a big corporate hotel. These are some of the positives of Airbnb.

Things to do in Maui - Airbnb
An Airbnb in Hawaii we rented

At the end of the day, the platform needs greater regulation and a better selection of properties with personal hosts, rather than whole complexes going up with the sole purpose of buying from overseas investors. Or at the least weed out the bad ones that seem to make up most of the platform these days.

Our biggest piece of advice these days would be to seek out reviews that mention the hosts specifically. Look for unique properties and READ plenty of reviews. Examine photos closely and make sure it has exactly what you want. On top of that, seek out licensed stays as owners that take the time to follow local regulations often provide a good guest experience.

There are some gems on Airbnb, and it may be well worth exploring your options on the platform. It’s not all bad, but our idea of a positive Airbnb experience is most definitely at odds with the corporate behemoth it is turning out to be.

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About Cameron Seagle

Cameron Seagle is one of the principal writers and photographers for The World Pursuit. He is a travel expert that has been traveling the world for the past decade. During this time, he established a passion for conservation and environmental sustainability. When not traveling, he's obsessed with finding the best gear and travel products. In his free time, you can find him hiking, mountain biking, mountaineering, and snowboarding. His favorite countries are Scotland, Indonesia, Mozambique, Peru, Italy, and Japan.

You can learn more about Cameron on The World Pursuit About Us Page.