Can New Policies Save Airbnb From Hotel Competition?

The company is taking steps to appease its critics

Man with a suitcase walking through the patio doors of his accommodation
Giselleflissak / Getty Images

Since its founding in 2008, Airbnb immediately provided a new way for people to travel. Rather than staying in traditional hotels, Airbnb offered people the opportunity to rent rooms, entire apartments, and even houses from locals in cities around the world, often at a cheaper rate than a traditional hotel. What wasn't to love?

In recent years, however, some travelers became disillusioned with the service, citing everything from pricing that trumped even luxury hotels, hosts issuing long lists of household chores, and sneaky hidden service and cleaning fees. Now, Airbnb has finally addressed most of these complaints, announcing new ways to see the total cost of a booking, including all fees, and limiting the types of checkout tasks assigned—no more scrubbing down bathroom tiles before your check-out time.

The company says that beginning next month, users will have the option to display the total cost of rentals before taxes, which include cleaning and service fees, within the search results, instead of just displaying the rate before fees. The company will also show the total price for the stay rather than a nightly rate. "I've heard you loud and clear—you feel like prices aren't transparent," Brian Chesky, Airbnb's chief executive officer and co-founder, tweeted while announcing the improvements.

While these changes are undoubtedly a welcome surprise to many users, the news comes at a time when Airbnb has been increasingly scrutinized by its users for not being as affordable as it once was. “We started as an affordable alternative to hotels, and affordability is especially important today,” Chesky continued in a thread on Twitter. “During this difficult economic time, we need to help our Hosts provide great value to you."

Airbnb is also attempting to solve another of the users' biggest complaints: long lists of household chores to be performed before checkout—or face lofty fees. The company now says it plans to provide hosts with standardized guidance on appropriate checkout tasks.

In the same Twitter thread, Chesky acknowledged the frustration many of the site's users have. “You shouldn’t have to do unreasonable checkout tasks, such as stripping the beds, doing the laundry, or vacuuming,” he said. “But we think it’s reasonable to turn off the lights, throw food in the trash, and lock the doors—just as you would when leaving your own home.”

While Chesky hopes this will be enough to lure travelers back to the service, some hassles users have faced when booking may have them already returning to hotels.

Hotels refund if something comes up. Airbnb does not.

"Recently, I booked an Airbnb a few weeks in advance for a work contract, but after the contract got canceled, I asked Airbnb for a cancellation and refund before checking in," said Burnaby Hawkes, a New York City-based writer. Airbnb refused to refund what Hawkes had paid, leaving him on the hook for a pricy stay he didn't need. "I've traveled around the world and booked rooms at hundreds of hotels around the world. There was always a full refund whenever I canceled before checking in," Hawkes continued, adding that he'll be returning to hotels in the future because of this incident. "Hotels refund if something comes up. Airbnb does not."

An Airbnb forum on Reddit reveals more tales of guests being forced to pay extensive fees for damages, being left out in the cold due to last-minute cancellations, and even being asked to undertake laborious chores like mowing a host's front lawn. A common theme of these posts alleges that Airbnb sides with the host over disputes on charges—and that posters are now looking to return to hotels in the future.

For some last-minute travelers, however, Airbnb is still an option, even for those who typically look toward traditional hotels first. Eliana Perez, from Palm Springs, California, says that when she needed to book a stay at a moment's notice, Airbnb was the only option as hotels in the area were already completely booked, but her stay offered hotel-like amenities. "The place I rented actually had an 'on-site manager' to handle cleanup and such," Perez said. She added that she was not asked to do any out-of-the-ordinary checkout tasks at her most recent rental either.

It remains to be seen if these policy changes will be enough to lure travelers back from hotels, though Airbnb is continuing to roll out further changes to the platform. For now, it seems, many are happy to be back in the land of housekeeping and room service—until the Ritz asks them to mow the lawn and take out the trash.

Article Sources
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  1. Airbnb. "Airbnb Is Introducing Total Price Display and Updating Guest Checkout." November 7, 2022.