My trip to Europe in June and July included challenging myself to try Airbnb, given that the new shared accommodation service stems from the formal accommodation industry. It was a ghastly experience, and I will think twice before using this accommodation service again!
Airbnb has taken off in its seven-year existence, with 1 million accommodation listings in 34000 cities and towns around the world. It has become a swearword for the formal accommodation sector, and is a massive threat! Its popularity stems from the more affordable accommodation options offered, and the personal contact one has with the host, to receive personal tourism tips. Hotels are moving unsold stock onto Airbnb, testimony of the power of this new shared accommodation offering. Africa is a focus for the company, having doubled in size on our continent in the past twelve months.
But all is not gold that glitters!
I booked last-minute, and it was quite a procedure to register on the Airbnb site, having to photograph a copy of my passport to verify who I am, and provide a social media link (I chose Facebook), as further verification. One has to provide credit card details upfront as well, without even having made a booking. No clear guidelines for bookings are provided by Airbnb on its site, and there is no standard guideline of minimum standards the hosts have to adhere to be able to host guests. There are host reviews, but they were hidden when I first started looking for accommodation options. One is very aware of what the accommodation looks like through the photographs shown (if they are an honest reflection), and the rate per day in Euro. One can see the house rules, which obviously vary per accommodation, and some location details. Facilities offered are detailed, e.g. Wifi, smoking, pets, allowed usage of rooms, TV, etc.
Entering one’s preferred suburb in doing the search brings up a large number of accommodation options, beyond one’s suburb specification. I landed on the page of Christian Krause, describing his accommodation as a ‘Cozy (sic) room in a designerapartment (sic)’, who lives in Bogenhausen in Munich (I had requested Schwabing, but no accommodation was offered in this suburb). The description and price seemed reasonable at €49 per day, but one needs to be aware that Airbnb adds a 10% service charge, and the host can add a cleaning charge too, none of which is shown or described in the base price when one is searching for accommodation, which is misleading and dishonest in itself! One is expected to wait up to 24 hours for a reply from the host. Christian replied almost immediately, and the deal was done. All communication is via Airbnb, which implies that one has to have access to wifi, which turned out to be a nightmare, in the lack of general wifi access in Munich, where restaurants rarely offer wifi. A copy of each message from the host is also sent by Sms, but neither the host nor AirBnB see the Sms reply, as I did initially, there being no ‘do not reply’ message in the Sms! Once Christian has been informed that the payment had been received, he informed me that he was on holiday in Thailand, and that his brother would open the apartment for me. I called his brother Thorsten, and we arranged a time and the address to meet. When we arrived at the address, it was that of Thorsten on the same street, and we were redirected to Christian’s apartment, on the 5th floor of an apartment block without a lift! This vital piece of information was not provided on Christian’s Airbnb page! Thorsten heard me dragging my bag up the steps, and came to my rescue on the 4th floor, probably to not cause any trouble with the neighbours. Thorsten showed me my room, told me I could not use the TV in the lounge (only the one in the bedroom), and provided the wifi password. The apartment was spacious (100 m² approximately), with a terrace as well, but with no view other than onto other apartment blocks. There was a coffee machine as well as a washing machine, but Thorsten did not provide details of how to use them, despite these being listed as facilities one is able to use. There is no blind on the loft window in the bedroom, which means that the daylight streams into the room from 6h00 onwards!
I had Thorsten’s cell number, so could send him What’s App messages. They were sent pretty quickly, when I discovered that the rubbish bins in the bathroom and kitchen were overflowing, especially the latter, which stank of coffee grounds. It was 35º C when I arrived in Munich, and the bedding on the bed was an acrylic winter sheet, duvet cover, and pillowcases, smelling of Deep Heat, making me realize that I was sleeping in dirty bedding! I messaged Christian about the problems which I was experiencing, and he promised that his brother would empty the bins, and put on more appropriate summer bedding, as was shown in the photograph on his site (my photograph on the right). Thorsten quickly became annoyed, refusing to action anything his brother had promised, telling me that it is not his apartment! Soon Christian had to admit defeat, in that his brother was not willing to assist in any way. He offered me a clean blanket on the couch in the lounge, but the dirty bins stayed, as did the bedding! Christian admitted that the bedding had not been changed! There is no central agency one can report problems to, and Airbnb make it very clear that they do not wish to get involved in any disputes between host and guest, and that the two parties should sort out their problems. I extended my stay in Munich by one day, and did not wish to find accommodation for a further night, so better the devil you know, I asked Christian if I could stay another night. He agreed but did not make the booking via AirBnB. A further irritation of staying in Christian’s apartment was that he would message in Thailand time, without consideration of the German time difference, and hence I received his messages by Sms at 3h00 on my cell phone! So it was on the morning of my departure, instructing me to leave the money in cash in his kitchen. I felt that he owed me a night for the poor state of cleanliness, that payment should go through Airbnb anyway, and I wanted to pay by credit card. It reflected how dishonest Christian was planning to be towards Airbnb! He was unhappy, and sent me numerous messages to tell me so, quickly forgetting all my complaints and his empty promises in not fixing them!
With far greater trepidation and diligence I searched accommodation in Airbnb in Nice, and decided to look for a woman host, thinking that the accommodation would be cleaner and more professionally run. Unfortunately I landed at the door of Meline Delbosc, whose apartment sounded promising, searching for female guests preferably! Her upfront declaration of having a three-year old son did not bother me. The accommodation was misleading in being described as a room in a house, which turned out to be a room in an apartment on the fourth floor of a block! The description of 1/2 bath was very accurate, almost impossible to get into, allowing a stand up shower too, until the shower head fell off the wall! I was impressed with the folded gown and neat collection of towels on the bed on my arrival, the gown being completely overdone relative to the minimal other services. It was incredibly hot in the room, and a mini-fridge in the room served as a ‘bedside table’ too. My cellphone had to dangle from the wall to charge it, as no plug had a table or surface nearby. The wifi worked. Kindly Meline drove me to Jan restaurant, as the transport descriptions were cumbersome, being far out of the centre of Nice, on its western side, also not declared on her Airbnb page. I had booked for 3 nights, but on the second day Meline entered my room (no key to the room is provided!) and told me that she had to move me to a (non-Airbnb) room of her friend in town, as she had an (undefined) ‘crisis’ and had to leave Nice the next morning, a day I had booked and paid for. She did not want me to stay in her apartment without her. Below is the review I sent to AirBnB, summarizing all the problems I experienced with the accommodation:
‘1 star rating is one too many for this dreadful hostess and her place. She is new at AirBnb, and only in it for the money. She is paranoid, and I was treated as if I was her 3-year-old son. She checks every usage of the minute bathroom, and complained when the tap dripped (does not close properly), when the bath mat went ‘missing’, which she had put in the washing machine and forgotten about, and when some water from washing my hands in the 20×6 cm basin splashed onto her shoes below! Do not believe any of her description, except the ‘1/2 bathroom’ – too tiny to share with a guest, and no space is made for one’s toiletries. The bath is lethal to get into, and is a ‘sit-bath’, with shower over, which promptly fell down due to its plastic suction holder! BE AWARE: 1. No room key is provided, so the hostess Milene walks into your room as she likes, with no respect for privacy. 2. There is no lounge – she sleeps in that with her son, on a sleeper bed, and there is no door of privacy to her sleeping space. One has to walk past it to use the bathroom. 3. The use of the kitchen is not offered at all. There is a tiny bar fridge in the room. 4. It is NOT A HOUSE, as claimed, it is a very old apartment. 5. One can only check in at 17h00, so that she can wash the bedding and iron it for the next guests, because she does not own a second set. I had to waste time at the airport (for wifi) until I could get to her place. Directions poor, address very confusing. No number of apartment provided when you arrive, so you would not know which door bell to ring! 7. ‘No special flat’ is the most accurate description – it is a dump In an industrial area where concrete work starts by jackhammer just after the church bells have frightened you out of your bed at 8h00 every morning. 8. There’s no special greeting, no glass of water offered, or anything else tourist-friendly, such as how to get the TV to work, where the apartment keys are, etc. All of the discussion of getting to town was done in my tiny 9 square meter room! Once your suitcase is in it, there is no further space. You cannot work at the desk, as it has a flap preventing one’s legs from going underneath it! 9. Neighbors party all night outside, and she does nothing to stop it. 10. There is no fan in the room, and it is extremely hot. You cannot open the door to the passage, as it gets into her space! 11. There is only one plug in the room to charge your phone and iPad with, dangling from the wall! 12. She smokes, and uses a sickly smelling scented candle to try to hide…’
I did not see that the limit of the Review is 500 words, which meant that the real low of lows of my Airbnb experience was not included in the Review. Despite having told me that we would leave at about 11h00 – 12h00 the next morning, she started chasing me to get ready to leave at 10h00. I was busy writing, and had not had a shower yet. She became more and more pushy, entered my room again without knocking, threw my bag with toiletries onto the bed, wanted to pack my bag for me, and said that I could shower at her friend’s place! I told her that I wasn’t ready yet, so she called her boyfriend, who lives close by, to frighten me into getting ready. He tried to bully me, but his English was too poor to achieve success. Meline then threatened to call the police. Her boyfriend drove me in Meline’s car to the city centre, looked and looked for an address which he could not find, made a call (to Meline I presume), and then stopped, handed me my suitcase, and drove off! I was in total shock, given that I had paid for the night to stay, and Meline’s friend was nowhere to be seen. I went to the first hotel I saw, and had to pay € 151 for the 3-star hotel room, charging this heavy rate due to the Fête de le Musique in Nice that evening, which had booked out the city. I could not help thinking that Meline had cancelled my last night to accept a new booking, which included my paid-for night!
I have taken the matter further with Airbnb, requesting the compensation of the hotel accommodation cost. It has taken them six weeks to refund the night I paid for at Meline, but they refuse to refund the balance of the hotel cost. I have asked them how they deal with unprofessional hosts like Meline, but they have dodged that question every time I have asked it. They have taken down my Review of Meline’s accommodation, saying that it does not meet their review guidelines. Since my stay at Meline, she has moved into a new apartment, I can see on her Airbnb page!
It is clear to see from my experience that despite the huge hype, Airbnb is growing at the expense of the formal accommodation sector. Airbnb will experience a serious dent if customers experience the unprofessionalism of hosts such as Christian and Meline. They have had no accommodation training, and feel that as they are sharing their private accommodation, and are not registered with the city’s Tourism Bureau, they can do what they like to their guests. They do not offer a welcome drink, they do not provide tourist information, they do not offer breakfast, they are dishonest with the presentation of information of their accommodation, and therefore should not have the ‘BnB‘ description as part of their name, giving the formal accommodation sector a really bad name! It is evident that Airbnb suppresses all negative reviews, so that all its accommodation appears far better than it really is. No evaluation is done by Airbnb about the quality of its host properties, and no checks are done on the marketing accuracy of the hosts’ claims! They rely purely on guest reviews on their site. TripAdvisor does not have a facility for users to post reviews of Airbnb accommodation, as the accommodation does not have a business name, and does not meet TripAdvisor’s requirement that the accommodation must be registered with the local tourism bureau!
POSTSCRIPT 29/7: We have just received a death threat from Christian Krause via Whatsapp, which we have reported to Airbnb; as well as a defamatory review on our Whale Cottage Facebook page, which we have reported to Facebook!