The Promised Airbnb Experience
Being a total traveling newb, I decided to book with Airbnb when visiting Rome for the first time. I planned, researched, weighed pros and cons–basically ticked all of my uncertainty boxes before committing to the popular hospitality site. The pricing for hotels versus Airbnb was similar but I found it much easier to find rooms near all the main tourist spots when using Airbnb. I found the perfect location down the street from the Coliseum. Beautiful roof deck. Exposed brick and wooden beams. Great reviews. So I went for it.
At 10pm, on a warm September night, my companion and I stepped out of the taxi (there were no Ubers available! We actually found it rather hard to get an Uber throughout our stay so keep that in mind if you ever find yourself in Rome) onto the cobbled pavement outside of our first Airbnb. We were met downstairs by…not our host. Which leads me to my first point:
Rarely Will You Ever Meet the Host
Travelers all agree, experiencing new cities as a local is the only truly immersive way to get the most out of exploring the world. With Airbnb, accomplishing this has become easier than ever. It opens up a world–pun intended–of opportunities. Airbnb doesn’t only offer the comfort of your own home away from home; it offers the experience of a local.
However, these experiences are becoming less and less genuine as Airbnb’s popularity grows. Hosts are beginning to realize the full potential of the site and, those with the means, are definitely capitalizing on it. The market is beginning to be flooded with hosts who own multiple properties. Oftentimes when booking, a guest is not even dealing with the owner but rather a company that manages the property.
In our case, we were very concerned about meeting someone without even knowing what he looked like. To make things even more skeevy, I was asked to provide my debit card and passport for “city taxes” which I had been informed of but had expected to cover with cash. The property manager then proceeded to take photos of these very sensitive documents to my utmost discomfort; a concern I later raised with Airbnb customer service. He showed us around the apartment and I quickly began to realize…
Photos Can Be Extremely Misleading
Airbnb provides a service to their hosts that connects them with local professional photographers who take stunning photos of their Airbnb property to post onto their site. This can be useful because it accurately portrays to the guest exactly what they’re getting into…or so I thought.
What I quickly realized with this particular place was that the photographer had pinpointed the highlights of the apartment and withheld the drawbacks. When walking out onto the roof deck, which had been a selling point for me on the place, I feared to even venture any further than a few steps from the door because the area seemed extremely unstable and neglected. But I was there to explore Rome, first and foremost, so I didn’t raise my concerns with the manager and thanked him profusely for being so accommodating with our late check in.
Finally, we were in our first Airbnb alone and ready for some sleep after a long day of traveling. In a truly picturesque fashion, I did the trust fall back onto the mattress aaaaaaandddd bam! broken tailbone. Okay, dramatic much but it did leave a bruise. That’s when I discovered that the word mattress was an overstatement for what was on the bed. Upon further investigation, I found that the mattress was wrapped in several dingy quilts in order to add a little more cushion to it and then covered up with a very deceivingly white sheet. This was something that I could not ignore so I emailed the owner. The whole point of an Airbnb is to have a place to sleep after all and I simply could not sleep in these conditions.
Messaging the Host Was Simply a Game of Waiting Out the Cancellation Clock
With this property, our host’s cancellation policy was that a guest could cancel by noon and receive a refund for all remaining nights. So, as soon as I realized that I wouldn’t get any sleep at the Airbnb, I reached out to the host to find a resolution. The host offered us new accommodation at (surprise!) one of his other properties. However, this property was significantly further away and advertised for much cheaper than what I had paid for the current reservation. When I pointed this out, the owner waited hours before responding to me by which time it was almost noon. Rather than continue this game of back and forth email tag, I cancelled our stay and cleared out.
Bearing two large suitcases and two heavy backpacks, my companion and I started the trek up the uneven pavement in search of a place to eat while we came up with a backup plan. Unfortunately, all of the affordable Airbnbs were completely booked up, leaving us feeling stranded and stressed. We had only one option that we could think to fall back on.
Call Airbnb Customer Support: They Really Are There to Help
I’ll never forget it. My first day in Rome was spent sitting in a little courtyard on a hill overlooking the Coliseum. Solicitors kept approaching us to sell selfie sticks and water while all I could worry about is where we were going to stay for the remainder of our trip. Needless to say, it wasn’t the experience I’d been anticipating.
Swallowing the insane amount of international calling charges I was going to have to pay, I decided to call Airbnb to explain the situation. The agent I spoke with was extremely helpful and explained everything I needed to do in order to receive a full refund from my awful experience. Make sure if you find any issues with an Airbnb that you document it through photographs and by raising these concerns with your host. Airbnb insists that a guest attempt to work things out with the host before contacting them. If your host refuses to respond in an appropriate manner, as ours did, then you enlist the help of customer service.
He mediated between myself and the host in order to come up with both sides of the story before deciding that I was entitled to a refund. He even contacted a new host to secure us accommodation for the remainder of our stay. Even though we spent an inordinate portion of the day searching for new accommodation, our new Airbnb host was very understanding and their place ended up being in a perfect location in the middle of a cornucopia of restaurants and unique shops.
Airbnb is a Toss of the Dice
Although our first Airbnb wasn’t all it was imagined to be, we landed accommodations right in the middle of everything. Our first time out exploring, we just happened to stumble into the Piazza Navona just a few blocks from our building! But of course, the most important part, the bed was actually a bed.
However, I couldn’t quite get over how much money and time had been wasted because our first host had conducted business the way he had. I reached back out to Airbnb to voice my concerns over allowing this host to continue misleading guests. To which I received a response stating that the guest accepts these risks when deciding to book a property through them.
Despite this response, we did continue using Airbnb throughout our stays as we toured Europe and, to be fair, we did not have significant problems with any of the other places. Of course, the lack of concern over such a deceptive host still doesn’t sit well with me and gives off the impression that Airbnb really doesn’t try to protect their guests from such experiences. With all of these points in mind, I hope that this can help you learn from our mistakes and avoid a host like him.
Do you have any of your own Airbnb horror stories? Share them with us in the comments below!