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Are you over Airbnbs?
Current feelings on the short-term rental experience
Teahouse is a newsletter about home, travel, and community. Here you’ll find renovation documentation and destination inspiration, alongside a curation of things I’m creating, consuming, and coveting right now.
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Were those… old coffee grounds the last guests left behind? We examined the coffeemaker with incredulity. At the last Airbnb we stayed at in August, which was marketed—and priced!—as a luxury property, my girlfriends and I almost left immediately after check-in because it was so wildly misrepresented and poorly cleaned.
More than ever, booking an Airbnb feels like a gamble of an experience. Kate Lindsay writes in the Atlantic this week:
“Airbnb was launched in 2008, a year after beginning as three air mattresses on the floor of its founders’ living room, but it is no longer a scrappy, community-minded platform powered by the gig economy. It’s an industry in itself, full of endless hosts and large property companies that manage dozens or hundreds of listings at a time. The relentless increase in quantity has stretched the quality thin.”
We’ve certainly been noticing this quiet thinning in quality over time. Hosts will charge a $300 cleaning fee but clearly have done only a rudimentary sweep on their own (and some people, myself included, really do not possess the skills to make a home sparkle like a professional). Then you get the Airbnbs that send a checkout to-do list a dozen items long, insisting that you strip the beds, run the dishwasher, start towel laundry, and take out the trash bins. Once, I even wandered the streets of London on a Sunday afternoon looking for towels because the host didn’t provide any!
What you rarely experience these days is that magic Airbnb once promised: of being welcomed into a home with above-and-beyond hospitality. Of feeling like you’re not just some tourist passing through, but someone who is momentarily part of a community. (That said, does anybody actually want that anymore, or are we all just looking for a contactless check-in and a hotel-like stay?)
On one of our first weekends at the lake house, one of our neighbors who is a full-time resident aggressively pushed the “please don’t Airbnb your house” agenda. While at first it was a bit off-putting, now we get it.
Quiet family of six getting away for the weekend in a three-bedroom house? I’m all for it. 12-person bachelor party in the same space? Not cool. When an Airbnb host chooses to prioritize profit by maxing out their occupancy, it means rowdy groups hanging out on the lakefront and excessive cars blocking the street. We’ve witnessed firsthand how a couple of Airbnbs on our street can completely change the dynamic of a mountain weekend. Your investment property shouldn’t wreak havoc on your neighbors’ right to quiet enjoyment.
As someone who’s rented out properties in Tokyo, Detroit, and Denver over the years, I’ve benefited from Airbnb as a hosting platform. I love that Airbnb has allowed for a class of small-time entrepreneurs to emerge. In general, I’m pro-Airbnb as a platform, but hosts have a responsibility to curate the best guest experience possible and to deeply consider their impact on the neighborhoods and communities they belong to, too.
In the Airbnb host Facebook groups I’m in (where you’ll be exposed to the seedy underbelly of Airbnb hosting, lol), hosts have been complaining that bookings are significantly down this year. However, revenge travel apparently showed no signs of slowing down this past summer, so I’m wondering if it’s Airbnb specifically that has fallen out of favor with travelers.
These days, we’re booking Airbnbs much more selectively. While there was a period we defaulted to staying at Airbnbs, that’s no longer the case—a result of both a decline in quality and our waning patience with the inconsistency of check-ins, amenities, cleanliness, etc.
Airbnbs still make the most sense for us when it comes to group travel: When my girlfriends and I take trips together, when we’re several couples going on a ski weekend, or when we travel with family, we’re usually booking Airbnbs. I do value the quality time you get hanging around a shared common space or cooking meals together. From a per-person cost perspective, Airbnbs frequently shake out to be a little more affordable than hotel rooms. And on an extended trip, access to laundry is obviously a plus (I will forever feel like hotel laundry is robbery, no matter how much money we have). But when Mike and I travel alone, we are now very much Team Hotel—all too often, the Airbnb downsides outweigh the upsides.
Ultimately, it comes down to inconsistency. Whether you’re booking an Aloft or an Ace or an Aman (I’m not booking Amans but maybe you are), there’s a certain quality that you associate with and can expect from the brand. But when it comes to Airbnb, it’s not clear what quality the brand stands for anymore.
I’d love to hear: How have your recent experiences been with Airbnbs? What do you love or hate about them? When do you choose to stay in hotels over Airbnbs, or vice versa?