A couple of bloggers I consider real friends got into interesting discussions around the legacies of Airbnb and Uber. Is what they’ve created better than what they replaced, or is their position in the market improving travel? Those kinda questions.

Uber got a pass, thanks to the tech advancements its brought to car service. You can see where the driver is, book from a central location and the safety features are truly fantastic now. Things were less positive when the discussion turned to Airbnb.

While I hear them, and there are certainly things I don’t love about Airbnb, I think it’s a tremendously important part of travel, and one that I spend more with annually than hotels.

In defense of Airbnb, here’s why I’m a fan, despite some shortcomings.

Legitimate Reasons To Be Frustrated With Airbnb

I’m not delusional. There are things within the Airbnb ecosystem that frustrate me, from fees to policies. Quite simply, there’s just a lot of gouging and a lot of inconsistent care applied.

Here are a few pet peeves of mine, which tend to match the opinions of View From the Wing and Pizza In Motion.

What Happened To Easy Payments?

Years ago, Airbnb proudly proclaimed booking would become easier than ever. With easy options to split payments among friends, and to put down deposits, rather than entire stay amounts, people could book more confidently. What happened there?

With few exceptions, where I occasionally find a listing with more flexible options, these friendly features are nowhere to be found. I’m presented with no choice but to pay in full and booking flexibility is among the worst in the business.

Flexibility Is Hardly Flexible

This is down to listers, not the Airbnb platform — but it still matters. Airbnb has failed to iterate with multiple rate options, like offering rock bottom deals for no flex rates, or higher prices with hotel “refundable rate” flexibility built in.

I try to book at least a month in California during peak UK winter, and I find it really difficult to commit serious cash far in advance, knowing i’ll fully eat it if plans change. This creates unnecessary hassle and impedes my ability to book early.

Airbnb Fees Are Extortionate

It’s one thing for hosts to add cheeky fees not included in the initial price onto listings, but ultimately that is a risk they take. They may, and often do, lose bookings because of that lack of transparency.

But Airbnb is guilty here too. The service fees charged by the platform on each listing are excessive. On one of my month long California stays, Airbnb was taking a service fee of more than $2000. For that price, I could hire an attorney to handle any service issues.

Another booking or two at that level would pay a solid monthly customer support role salary. Of course, I, nor the host, ever made contact with Airbnb during the stay. Enjoy the tip, Airbnb?

Neighborhoods Under Threat?

I think on a net basis, Airbnb is doing more good than bad with its role in cities and neighborhoods around the world. Why? Because it’s up to these places to decide what role Airbnb can play there. It’s also up to communities to tackle bad behavior.

Doing nothing to curb listings may be the right solution in some places, while limiting the scope of Airbnb listings may be correct in others. Palm Springs has actually done a very good job of creating rules which don’t suppress local home ownership, or ruin the experience for locals.

You don’t want to drive locals out of an area with landlords opening Airbnb “hotels” instead of apartments, but you also can’t overlook the positives from of out of town visitors spending money in wider communities.

The Airbnb Positives Are Huge Though

You’ve already got nearly 400 words of why Airbnb isn’t perfect, so it’s time to touch on the positives. There are many. From democratizing prices to highlighting destinations and mending the family travel void left wide open by hotels, a lot of good has come.

Family Travel Opportunities

Hotels have let arguably archaic room occupancy policies and lack of imagination with guest room spaces hamper family travel for decades. Multiple rooms, sometimes not connected, you get the picture.

Sure, this is niche to family travel, but it is quite a big market. In hotels, I hate not being able to quickly prepare food for my daughter, forced to rely on limited, hit or miss room service or venture out in a pinch.

Airbnb has opened up so many vital elements to family travel, from cooking facilities to more bedrooms, privacy and storage space. Listings in more locations also means more opportunity to stay in the most surgically beneficial areas for a given stay.

Curbing Overtourism

Airbnb has become a tool of inspiration in travel, and the value of that can’t be overstated. People get inspired by specific architects, properties or amenities and book vacations they would’ve never otherwise taken. Sometimes, to places which aren’t on the trending destinations list. Sometimes, somewhere local.

In major cities, listings go farther and wider than big box hotels. Instead of just Times Square benefiting from first time trips to New York, more of Manhattan, Queens, the Bronx, Brooklyn and others can benefit. People stay in these areas, eat, buy things and discover new parts of a city.

No More One Size Fits All

Vacations rentals existed long before Airbnb, but a centralized booking facility, with the plethora of new protections and amenities Airbnb is now offering, did not.

Much like Uber made booking taxi’s easier, Airbnb has added confidence to the home share market. Think no further than what it means to say “I booked an Airbnb” now, as opposed to 10 years ago.

10 years ago Airbnb and “cheap” were probably synonymous. It was born out of desire to beat hotel prices in San Francisco. Listings were basically couch surfing. Now, many of the worlds finest homes, apartments and penthouses are on the platform. There are also defined levels, such as ‘Airbnb Plus’, which provides hotel standard amenities.

Airbnb isn’t as much about savings, as customization. I can get what I want. It exists, somewhere. Whatever it may be.

If you want a three bedroom house with a pool and a barbecue, you can get that. For a group of friends, colleagues or family getting together in a given destination, that may very well be better than any hotel. If you want to couch surf to make a trip affordable, it’s that too.

Income Opportunities For More People

I’m not a fan of people who open hundreds of Airbnb’s and effectively operate as hoteliers in all but name. There’s a reason hotels have safety rules and governance. I am a fan of people being able to create income from a space, or place they have, to better its utilization.

If someone is able to give themselves a better experience in life thanks to side income from the Airbnb platform, that’s pretty cool. If it better utilizes spaces, which eliminates a need for more development, that’s pretty cool too.

Controlled Environments

Safety is often an illusion in life, but controlling environments can help. Particularly during the health issues of recent years, having a place where you could control the flow of people was huge.

For many travelers, it still is. Whether it’s allowing a family retreat where everyone can truly unwind, or just a place where you feel comfortable sitting around the pool, sans Instagram Live influencers, there’s a lot of benefit to controlling your vacation space.

Airbnb: My Experiences Have Been Great

I’ve never had to walk out of an Airbnb. I’ve stayed in more than 40 cities globally and I’ve never had an issue. I know people who’ve stayed once, hated it, had issues and are now staunch critics.

With hotels, airlines, Airbnb’s and anything in travel, I hate negative experiences. At the same time, I don’t let a single negative define a larger movement. It may define my bit of participation, but if it’s working for many, it’s probably working.

Airbnb could improve in many ways, from a more compelling loyalty program to a new set of fees, based on some level of reason. Despite this, it’s made a huge impact on the world of travel, and in my opinion, the positives outweigh the negatives.

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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13 Comments

  1. Two pet peeves with Airbnb:
    1 – No ability to filter by total price, so when results appear, they are all over the place in total price (and you can’t sort by total price)
    2 – No easy way to see at a glance those places with free cancellation. It’s the primary reason I don’t use Airbnb for much vs hotels where free cancellation is often standard

  2. Airbnb is awful. It single-handedly ruined our beautiful mountain ski town in summit county CO. Town is full of transient crazy drunk aholes 24/7 now. Locals tried and tried to get towns to change short term rental rules to no avail.
    We sold and moved. Was a treasured family home.

    1. Sounds like your previous neighbors who sold out to get side income are more to blame, not Airbnb lol.

      1. It is true that AirBnB is not the direct cause of neighbors’ greediness and short-term visitors’ pig ignorance, but it sure does facilitate these behaviors.

  3. I agree with you on much of this as an AirBnB (and VRBO) host as well as a frequent user. The fundamental issue is that there is no quality control. As a user I sometimes come across staggering meanness in fittings, combined with a cutesy handwritten note which is somehow meant to make it better. As a host, I don’t feel I am rewarded for maintaining a very high standard. The rental agencies which preceded AirBnB provided a framework for this but the online operators make no efforts to provide anything.

    On fees, the agency I used ten years ago took 40%(!!) but provided a very full service. AirBnB’s host fee is opaque but is usually <5%, but our overall cost of hosting is only a fraction less than 40%, so AirBnB has added very little but taken away the hands-on agency.

    Finally, expecting flexibility on reserving unique properties is unrealistic – owners have no opportunity to overbook unlike airlines and hotels. Just take out travel insurance.

  4. Your comments underestimate the negative impact on other residents in apartment buildings and other multi-tenant dwellings. While many airbnb users visit and leave with limited disruption a sizable minority seem to view their nightly fee as ticket to do literally whatever they want. The airbnb host collects the fee. The person living in apt across the hall receives nothing but has significant deterioration in quality of life and in some cases genuine security concerns. The argument aggressively pushed by airbnb through advertising and contributions to local politicians that airbnb is a source of economic gain for working families is dubious. For every working family that is a winner there are multiple families in the building for whom airbnb is net negative with zero economic gain. In many cities hosts are violating local regulations and building rules. airbnb does almost nothing to limit promotion of properties transparently violating documented community standards. This is not a niche problem. This is a fundamental misalignment in the business model. People in buildings in which airbnb facilitates bookings should be able to bring legal action directly against airbnb for damages. That would fix misalignment. It would also likely bankrupt airbnb, or at least make booking in litigious US cities prohibitively expensive. Hard to see how this business model should be sustainable.

    1. Yes, I could not imagine what it would be like to live in an apartment complex or residential neighborhood and have a ceaseless succession of noisy ill-behaved visitors in the vicinity. And if I couldn’t even “count on” people being loud on, say, Saturdays but reasonably quiet the rest of the week, I’d lose my mind.

  5. I’ve stayed in AirBnBs about a half dozen times and have never once had a decent mattress. Seems like there a no quality standards in fit-up and owners often opt for the cheapest option. I’m done with them.

  6. Host cancelled on the day of arrival. To get my money back, I had to process the cancellation with AirBnB, and since I “cancelled”, I could not comment on the host’s property and let users know about this risk (it’s still has a 5 star rating!). No help from AirBnB nor compensation. AirBnB is a joke. A hotel does NOT treat a guest that way.

  7. Maybe not awful, but it’s clearly inflated and not great by any means. Too much to list. Most recent example: a property can be listed by a superhost, even though the property does not have smoke or CO detectors. Basic safety (and code), not necessary to be a superhost. To demonstrate a significant advantage, how about making the superhost standards, the basic requirements to maintain host status at all. That might elevate the quality more consistently, to whatever those standards are (who knows). I am still not sure what advantage/benefit this site has over the many previously well established booking options. Many of the same properties show up on booking.com, with better search engine, wider comparisons, and when timed right, a good shopping portal bonus.

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