As we all focus on more sustainable travel there are some Airbnb ethical issues that have been brought to our attention. Let me preface by saying not all Airbnb rentals are a bad choice! We’ve had some amazing experiences over the years, met wonderful 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 a number of 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 a slew of bad experiences over the last two years.
Our best advice for sustainable travelers is to use the platform thoughtfully and consider its impacts on locals.
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 offer incentives for new users necessary.
Airbnb Service Issues
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
When you book a hotel through a booking platform or direct with a hotel you do not pay any fees outside of sales and local taxes. Since hotel businesses receive free marketing from booking platforms they pay a commission to the platform in the realm of 10-15%.
However, Airbnb charges guests a hefty fee of 12% for each booking while hosts only pay 3%. That means for every $1,000 you’re forking over $120 to Airbnb for the use of the service. It all 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 the platform.
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 problems of the Airbnb you booked.
Cleaning Fees Are Common
The Airbnb Service fee isn’t the only additional fee guests are required to pay. Unlike hotels, guesthouses, or hostels guests will have to pay for the cleaning of the unit they rent.
When we first started using Airbnb in 2014, very few properties charged a cleaning fee. Now it’s rare to find a listing without a cleaning fee.
Host listings and Airbnb are businesses that charge for their service and then require guests to pay for their cleaning. It feels a bit like paying for your table to be cleaned after leaving a restaurant. For short stays, this can drastically alter the cost per night for an Airbnb.
It also drives me crazy when I search for Airbnb properties under a certain price point, only to find when you 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 results to find it more easily. You find the perfect property, you are about to book, only to get to the booking page to see a $150 cleaning fee at the end. This is a tactic we commonly see used from hosts to lure guests into booking for a lower price only to be shell shocked when clicking “book.”
Airbnb Has Become Poor Value
With all of the fees, it’s become commonplace for Airbnbs to cost far more than hotels. For that more expensive price, you receive far fewer amenities 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 an Airbnb in Bangkok a night early so we could arrive the next morning after a red eye flight to only receive a negative review from the host about how we “checked-in uncomfortably early.” This came from a host-based in London that we never met.
For longer stays of a week or more, it is worth exploring options. Airbnbs can be a great 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 amazing stays. It was common for us to find 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.
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, coffee maker, functional knives, and barstools that fit the countertops. It’s pretty common for an Airbnb to feature the cheapest kitchen utensils and furniture. It just needs to look nice in photos so guests will book immediately.
Unreliable Reviews on Airbnb are an issue
Most Airbnb hosts treat their properties as businesses and they 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 we’ve been burned by user reviews 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 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
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 hairs and we only discovered as we went to bed the first night. Of course, it was too late to replace the sheets so we slept with only a blanket 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. A lot of 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 really isn’t too comfortable to actually 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.
Do You Need A Kitchen?
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
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 has driven many locals from neighborhoods. As we live in a desirable area of the world, we have first handily see 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.
There are a number of trends that point to long-term doubt around the legacy of the company. A recent poll for landlords in the U.K. found that nearly 10% are considering the switch from long-term tenants to short-term rentals. This would exacerbate a growing affordable housing crisis and wealth divide.
The company has admitted that the greatest challenge is local laws and regulations. In many cities and destinations, they’re actively fighting local legislators 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 in 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 that popped up in Australia found that nearly 35% of short terms rentals were illegal sublets. Tenants we’re violating their lease agreements and racking up multiples rentals to then rent on Airbnb without the owner’s knowledge. This may not seem like a great risk to renters, but it does bring about some Airbnb ethical issues.
Lack of Regulations
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.
There are no Airbnb representatives that come out to inspect the properties or ensure guest satisfaction.
Safety and Privacy Issues
With the lack of regulations and inspections, Airbnb leaves it up to the guests to determine if a place is ready. There have been numerous allegations over the years of hosts assaulting or violating the privacy of guests.
Examples include hidden cameras inside the rental and violent crimes against guests that include murder. Granted as we’ve always said these are rare circumstances and travel is typically very safe.
Airbnb Has Poor Customer Service
Airbnb places importance on the hosts that comprise its platform and not the guests. You can see this through the numerous policies that 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 companies 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. If bloggers would promote Airbnbs on their websites, they 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 generating an income.
Due to the income, many bloggers focused their time on producing content around the platform by hiring writers, editors, and pouring thousands of hours of work into their sites. Luckily we were focused on another project, which kept us from spending time on this, but many others were affected.
Less than a year into the program, they discontinued the program with less than 30 days notice and stopped responding to emails. They stuck it to a lot of small business owners that helped support them through tough times. You likely won’t see many digital marketers reference Airbnb moving forward.
we Do Love Some Properties
All that being said, and at the risk of not sounding too negative some of our favorite stays and experiences of all time have come from Airbnb! Almost all of them also come from what Airbnb should be though, great interactions with the host at a meaningful place. Something we found over and over in the early days of the platform and less so now. We’d feel awful to speak discouragingly of the hosts who have opened up their doors to us over the years.
They have been outstanding examples and made our trips immensely enjoyable. We’ve been able to enjoy a small room above a Japanese cafe, an old farmhouse in the French countryside, enjoy a picnic with an older Irish woman on the Irish coast, and enjoy a gorgeous live-in-suite with friendly hosts in Utah.
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 it 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 a big corporate hotel. These are some of the positives to Airbnb.
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 to be bought from overseas investors. Or at the least to weed out the bad ones that seem to make up the majority 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.