Our AirBnB from hell: falling through the cracks of a community platform

Over Thanksgiving break, we rented a place in Arcata, CA to visit our son who’s a sophomore at Humboldt State. Unlike my previous AirBnB experiences — which were delightful — this rental was a slowly-unfolding nightmare. Here’s a cautionary tale about what happens when you fall through the cracks of a community platform.

When we arrived, we noted that the place was small, clean and quirky. So far so good. We want upstairs to unpack our things, and that’s when we noticed all the… interesting artwork. Everywhere we turned — another disturbing image. Who curated this place? Who’d want to wake up to these images?

That night, we sleep on airbeds… that deflated. If you’ve ever had the experience of waking up at 3 AM, exhausted from a long day of travel, with the sinking realization that you need to pump up your bed — again — then you feel me.

In the morning, we discovered that our vacation rental didn’t include a microwave oven. Which meant that reheating anything during our trip — morning coffee, lunch leftovers, hot cocoa for the rainy evenings — became a major pain.

We called the property manager about the deflating beds. She claimed the beds were “fine” and suggested that we didn’t know what we were doing. She came over and pumped up the main bed, making sure the valves worked. A few hours later… it deflated. Again. So we called her back. She passed us off to the owners — who then passed us back to her — so she brought over a different airbed for us to try — grumbling and visibly angry.

This experience was depersonalized and unprofessional — NOT what you want in the hospitality industry. One thing that really stood out was that there was nobody on site to greet guests & resolve problems. All the AirBnBs I’ve stayed in before had owners nearby, or a well-established property management firm to contact.

This time, we interfaced with a surly, underpaid manager with no vested interest in the situation. When things went wrong, it was difficult and unpleasant to get them fixed. And to cap off the experience — she wrote me a nasty review afterwards. Blame the guest — way to go!

So what does all this have to do with community platforms?

AirBnB is a platform that connects hosts to travelers. It’s policy is to be hands-off when it comes to onsite management or quality control. It relies on reputation algorithms and escalated complaints. Thus, a situation like mine can easily fall through the cracks.

My experience should not have happened — but it did. As a traveller, I am now much less likely to use AirBnB as a platform — I will stick to HomeAway and VRBO, where I have had ONLY good experiences.

And I noticed that this rental-from-hell was NOT listed on those platforms — but WAS listed on AirBnB.

Quality matters. It takes a long time to build up trust — and just a moment to loose it.

Game designer, startup coach, author, entrepreneur gamethinking.io