Is Airbnb a nightmare? My short answer is yes! As I mentioned in my last post Bay City, Michigan: AnUnexpected Treat, we stayed in an Airbnb, and I would have some comments on our use of Airbnb’s on the trip we took around Lake Huron and on some other trips I have taken.
I think it is essential to address Airbnbs before people start planning spring break and summer vacations. So here goes. These are my experiences with Airbnb over the years. You can insert VRBOs on the camping side Hipcamp. I have, at one time or another, used all three. Though I will tell you Hipcamp will be a post of its own.
Airbnb the beginning
First off, the original idea of Airbnb was some dudes in San Fransisco renting out air mattresses to conference attendees to make their rent and get the conference folks a place to stay when the hotels were booked. “air, bed, and breakfast” It was literally born out of the fact rent is too high and unaffordable across the nation. Ironic now.
It is mind-blowing to me that some 16 years or so later, Aibnbs have become nearly unaffordable for the average person. They are no longer the cheap alternative to a hotel room. They still sometimes suit a purpose, especially when traveling to tourist destinations like the Outerbanks with large groups. Though I would argue you are better off renting a large house for multiple families from a smaller property ownership or management agency that has worked or knows about hospitality management in the area and not a homeowner based in Manhattan or somewhere.
I do not doubt anyone who has used Airbnb or the like frequently in the past 16 years has some great stories and wonderful deals, myself included. What has happened more and more frequently, though, as I search for places to travel and stay that do not end me sleeping in Hope the Bronco. I have found there is a common thread. It is becoming more restrictive on time. 4 pm or later check-ins and out by 9-11am. It is becoming less and less hospitable. As more people that have no idea what hospitality is, enter the Airbnb arena, they are decorating their places beautifully and adding steam showers and decks and hot tubs and pools, but they are also adding to that 3-ring binder they all leave you with citing a long list of restrictions and rules.
Let’s talk cleaning fees. A hotel does not charge you a cleaning fee. If You stay more than one day, they will change your sheets and bring you towels. Many hotels offer for you to opt out of this if you choose to save water and staff time, but there is no fee on either side of it. If you eat in the room, they take the food boxes away. think pizza or KFC buckets; there is no charge for garbage removal.
If you order room service, you can choose to set the dishes in the hall or leave them in your room. There is no charge either way. In the last two years, I have stayed where I have had to bring my own sheets and towels. I have had to pack up my trash and find a dumpster to place it in off-site. I have had to do the dishes and run the dishwasher. all while paying at least 125$ cleaning fee and, at the most $300 cleaning fee. Even if the space only costs $99, with those fees, everything is over $200 a night. That is no longer a deal that is the cost of a hotel room.
This is where hospitality knowledge comes into play. Many of us travel to places we have never been before. If you go to school for hospitality management, you are told on the first day that LOCATION LOCATION LOCATION will play a factor in everything you do for the rest of your career. The professor in the first class I ever took in college was not wrong about this.
The issue with Airbnbs is that they are homes and/or condos, in many cases, being bought up from areas that are not tourist friendly. Nor close to the things you need, like the airport or the cruise ship terminal. They are cheap to purchase. Sometimes run-down homes were people’s actual homes until investors bought them up. Investors spend thousands fixing them up, mostly cosmetically, and then not wanting to rent them for under $500 a night.
Is Airbnb A Nightmare
When you spend $500 a night in a hotel, you are staying and paying for hospitality. You expect a central location and clean sheets. Possibly room service or concierge service. You can stay at the Ritz Carlton in New Orleans in the French Quarter bordering the business district for $500 a night. For that price, you can get amazing amenities. You can also go down the street into the heart of the French Quarter and stay at the Bourbon Orleans(a personal favorite) for $200-400 a night. At either of these hotels, be able to walk, trolly or taxi anywhere very easily. Have room service or a local restaurant within steps or delivered.
That level of service does not take place in most airbnbs or vrbos for the same price. For example, I found a place on Airbnb in New Orleans that said walkable to the best New Orleans has to offer for $100 a night. To walk to the French Quarter from this location would be 5.1 miles each way. We can argue that the French Quarter is not the best of New Orleans, but it is where everyone who visits wants to go. It holds nightlife, art, and culture. The French Market is there, and so is the tourist part of the Mississippi River and all the river offers.
After fees and such, the Airbnb ended up being about $220 a night. This is not hospitality. It is also not the great deal one would think it is. This is setting yourself up for a potentially bad trip to New Orleans. This same scenario can be set up repeatedly in the Airbnb/Vrbo world. No matter where you visit.
Lastly, let’s talk a second about who owns these Airbnbs now. The Airbnbs and Vrbos are increasingly owned by wealthy investors who hire apartment management companies to run their properties. They put minimal upkeep into the property and get a maximum $$ out. They often buy up local single-family housing and turn them into single-night or weekly rental units. Diminishing space for people to rent and live in the area. This has far reaching affects the most notable is labor shortages in tourist destinations.
An Example From Our Trip
We encountered this on our trip around Lake Huron; We chose a place for all the reasons you do. Great location and the photos were beautiful. The listing said bars and restaurants were close by, and the views were amazing. It was an old stone house, and it had a history associated with it. We arrived, and it was an old stone house. Built up against the side of a hill. The original wood floors were amazing. Though the water coming off the hill from recent rain was actually coming through the side of the house and across the kitchen floor. The front porch was rotten, the bushes were so overgrown that you could not see out the window, let alone find a view. This is one example of what makes Airbnb a nightmare.
We were over 9 miles from a town or a restaurant. If you live there, I am sure that was close by. As a tourist, that is not close by, especially if you would like a cocktail or wine with dinner. It was an unacceptable place to stay for these reasons and a few others.
Credit to the management company they refunded our money and in the same breath said they had over 60 other airbnbs available in and around this area we were in. I passed, and I was able to find a wonderful hotel in the area that led to one of the best meals of our trip and one of the most wonderful towns to spend a little time in. I will write about this town, hotel, and sights in one of the next articles on the blog. Have you found Airbnb a nightmare, and if so, what have you done about it?
Changing my ways
In writing this bit on Airbnbs, I have decided to go back to looking for hotels/motels and actual hospitality businesses. If I cannot find what I need, I may possibly use Airbnb or Vrbo. I have to say there is something to be said about professional people doing professional jobs.
Professionalism is still important.
That last line in the above paragraph is the most important I spent most of my career being told that I did not hold real jobs. That waiting tables and managing restaurants were not real work. That somehow, time spent in an office was more valid. I used to fight the stigma, and then I just came to not think about it.
But at the core of what bothers me so much about Airbnb/vrbos is that people with money assume now anyone can do it. It’s easy work. It takes no skill. At this stage, I think as Airbnb suffers some serious growing pains and issues, we can see that not everyone can be a hospitality manager. That it does take hard work, and people want to escape their lives for a night, a weekend, or a week. Having us do our own dishes or bring our own sheets and paying for that privilege is way too much like staying at home. Especially when the hospitality leaders have such great programs now to reward you for using their products. We will talk about that in a sooner rather than later post.