I recently used Airbnb for the first time, and as it turns out probably the last time, to book an apartment for myself and my colleagues visiting DrupalCon in Barcelona. Many weeks later, as the event neared, a couple of other colleagues wanted to attend. I looked on Airbnb again, a bit last minute, to see what there was. Very little! There was one 4-bed apartment we could "Instant Book" in Sagrada Familia, so with pretty much a choice of one apartment, I booked it!
When it came to checking in, we weren't quite sure how things were going to go in terms of people's arrival times, etc. so we weren't sure which people would end up in which apartments, but anyway, I explained this in messages to both hosts, so far no problem. As it happened, I arrived late at night, so I ended up in the first of the two apartments. I also came by car and it had parking, so I stayed in an apartment run by a lovely guy named Fabrice. (If you're going to Barcelona and you must use Airbnb, I heartily recommend Fabrice.)
My colleague Pascal, being the second-earliest to arrive, took the other apartment, supposedly in Sagrada Familia. Once near the apartment he called the host to arrange to meet and was told he had to meet in another part of town, from where the host would take him to the apartment by car. On meeting the host,he wanted a disconcertingly large amount of information from Pascal's passport before he would give him the keys. Then he informed Pascal the Sagrada Familia apartment was not available (no real explanation) and said they had to go to another apartment in Las Ramblas. Pascal was slightly put-out, but figured as long as the apartment was big enough, clean and central, no harm, no foul. The other apartment has 3 bedrooms, instead of the 4-bed one we ordered, but it's OK. We inform the other two people staying with Pascal, one woman and one man, and they manage to meet up without issue. The apartment is fine.
So all was good, until Tuesday evening. Then the host rings Pascal on his mobile and tells him they have to move out tomorrow to another location. This makes Pascal pretty angry, there is a rather sharp exchange of words, but reluctantly (and lacking another option) Pascal agrees to move apartment. The next morning, at 9am, the host bangs on the door of the Las Ramblas apartment and asks them to get ready to leave. They pack their things and get put into the host's car, but don't get told where they're going. Just somewhere else.
They arrive at a small apartment (to this day we're not quite sure where) and get bundled inside, only to find two strange men they do not know already in the apartment. Now put yourself in their position for a moment: they're in a strange country; they don't speak the language; they've been asked to move twice now; they're uncomfortable about the amount of personal information they've had to hand over in the checkin process; they don't know where they are; and now they're in an apartment with three strange men they know nothing about. Actually scary. (As it happens, the two other men were perfectly nice, but you can imagine the initial fear - are we getting robbed here?)
The apartment is too small, it has a single bedroom with two beds in it, one double and another bunk bed. The guys there in the apartment suggest the two men share the bunk bed while the woman has the other bed. And if they don't want to share the room, there's a sofa. Pascal says this is not acceptable and asks to leave, so everyone goes back outside. Only to find the host has vanished completely! The two other guys have to phone him and ask him to come back and sort the situation out. Eventually he reappears.
Everyone back in the car, at which point a strange woman starts to push her way into the car next to our female colleague, without any explanation. Turns out it's the host's wife (she'd met Pascal, but not my other colleagues). When we work this out, another colleague starts asking her what her name is, where we're going, will she give us a mobile number in case there are further problems? The woman won't say anything except for "you'll see" and "later". So everyone is in the car once again, crossing Barcelona, no clue where they're going, with two strange people who won't tell them anything.
Cue apartment number two, might be the nicest apartment in Spain, but they've driven for so long they're almost certainly no longer in Barcelona. It's OK, says the host, there's a bus to the Metro. And it's a really nice neighbourhood. At this point, Pascal has had enough. He says to the host he clearly doesn't have any apartment for them, he needs to just drop them back in the centre of Barcelona and forget the whole thing, because this is a joke. By this point, our female colleague is in tears because of the stress of the whole situation, and everyone is very upset and anxious. Where are they going to go? How much is it going to cost? What if they can't find me? And so on.
The host drives them back to the conference venue and leaves them there.
Now here the host is smart. He gets ahead of the game. He contacts Airbnb before we get chance to and tells them Pascal and friends "chose to cut short their stay". He also refunds us the three days we're not using the place in Las Ramblas, to show he's done the right thing. So Airbnb see some guests who cancelled early and a nice host who gave them the money back.
That is until we contact Airbnb.
Because the Resolution Centre on their website doesn't work I tweeted my frustration, and Airbnb Spain reached out, following me so we could DM. I explain the situation as best I can and then get an email from their support team.Everything else happens on the phone. Jose from Airbnb Spain calls me to find out more details. I explain the whole thing, almost as I have here (I probably missed out the three men in a flat, the wife, and my colleague crying bits, but most of it) and he says OK, he'll go back to the host, but if we can do anything to prove we weren't in the right apartment from the off that will help him make a case against the host, if the host has acted inappropriately.
Here we have a stroke of luck! The woman who stayed in the apartment in Las Ramblas took a couple of photos from the balcony, so we can actually PROVE we were never in the Sagrada Familia apartment. This is exactly what Jose asked for, so I email him the photos and wait expectantly for a positive resolution.
Jose phones again, and this is when the wheels come off. He's polite and professional throughout, but he starts out by telling me it's our word against the hosts (even though we sent the photo so we could prove the host is lying on at least one point). Then he goes on to scold me about breaching terms of service for:
I'm slightly taken aback by this, because it's obvious there wasn't a problem on the first night. There was aninconvenience, but the host seemed to sort it out, so why complain to Airbnb at that point?On the second one I'm starting to feel patronised, as I get a lecture on how hosts need to know who's staying with them, because it's so important to them, etc. etc.
I am a host on Airbnb (or my wife is, though we'll be deleting that listing this week, I can tell you) and we hosts need the shop window. We don't care how people contact us or for what purpose, as long as we can have a phone call before we accept them and get a feel for them. What's more, I DIDN'T MISLEAD ANYONE. Here's my message (which I'm sure Jose could read in my account):
I own an IT company and we have some people going to a conference in Barcelona next week. I know it's a bit late, but some extra people wanted to attend so we need another apartment (we already booked one!) ... The event we are attending is DrupalCon Barcelona: (website hidden)
There are 2 or 3 people who need somewhere to sleep, and your apartment looks lovely and on an easy line for the Metro to the venue, so we very much hope you'll accept our booking! :-)
So what's the big deal, right? Well, it seems that because I didn't book the apartment for myself, and because Pascal didn't complain the first night when he wasn't able to stay in Sagrada Familia, as far as Airbnb is concerned we can't have a full refund because we breached their terms of service. Even though, as a direct consequence of the actions of their host, we had three conference delegates who lost half a day of conference and got dumped on the street, so we had to shell out 9 nights of walk-in rate hotel fees in Barcelona. I applaud your excellent grasp of customer service techniques, Airbnb. I'm very impressed.
So what happened to the host? To recap, he:
Well he's fine. His flat is still on Airbnb and guess what, you can still "Instant Book" it! And I'd lay odds if you do, you'll be met at the door with some shabby excuse about why it isn't ready, but don't worry, he has another place for you not far away...
At this point the money is irritating. We've got most of it back (though the voucher Jose promised me never materialised), we're only short about 250. The other irritating thing is we know the host has taken 364 from us for basically not providing the service he promised to provide and pretending we left of our own free will when, to all intents and purposes, he dumped us on the street. He shouldn't get a penny. Airbnb can demand it back from PayPal, I know this, I've used eBay before. PayPal can pretty much do as they like. But they're clearly not going to.
Anyway, what is really really concerning is they have done nothing to stop this guy. And that is the main reason Airbnb is dead to me. What this little episode has shown me is basically this:
Airbnb do not care about guests and their safety at all.
It's the only conclusion I can draw. We've been told there's nothing they can do (about a rogue host) because we broke the terms of service, and we should be grateful (grateful!) that Airbnb deigned to give us $200 back (against the $1,000+ hotel bill the actions of the host cost us) whereas the host, who was caught lying and has left his guests on the street, is free to carry on.
On top of this, they've continued to publiclyargue the toss with me all day on Twitter, when the smart thing to do would be to STFU and email me quietly with some meaningful assurances. In fact, THEY'RE STILL ARGUING! It's almost funny.
What I can't fathom is it makes no business sense!Hosts need a shop window desperately, kicking a few bad hosts doesn't harm your business at all. (I know this, I am a host. I will behave, losing my listing is my death.) Upsetting guests, on the other hand. That will be the death of Airbnb. No guests, no hosts. Their policy is nuts, it makes no sense at all. And the ridiculous rolling Twitter argument just makes them look worse and worse.
Well goodbye Airbnb, hello HouseTrip.com, which I'm reliably informed is significantly better run.