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How Hotels Can Win Back Annoyed Airbnb Guests

Learn what’s irking vacation rental guests so you can earn back their business.

I’m what you might call a very loyal Airbnb guest, though I love hotels and used to be a hotel manager. But I’ve stayed in dozens of Airbnbs in a handful of countries over the past 10-plus years. I’ve stayed in rentals that were great and, well, not so great.

But I’ve always loved the advantages of the platform: the idea of feeling like a resident in an area, having a house to myself and getting to see and stay in cool, unique places. But after many years of using Airbnb 80 percent of the time, I’m gravitating back to hotels. And I’m not the only one: so many guests have gotten annoyed that the platform has recently created some new rules for hosts.

Here are four things irking vacation rental guests these days, that hoteliers may be able to use to woo back these guests:

  1. Cookie-cutter homes. One of the appeals of booking a vacation rental: you get to stay in a unique home that’s not “cookie cutter.” At least that was the original idea, that homeowners would share their spaces. But the success of Airbnb has led to a glut of what I think of as “corporate hosts.” I’ve seen it in my own neighborhood, where an out-of-town company owns a few dozen homes. As a guest, these can lead to experiences like one I had in Atlanta: what looked online like a charming place was a bland house, divided into a four-plex, and sparsely furnished.
  2. Intrusive hosts. I rented a house for the tail end of a long stay in Uruguay. The home looked charming and rustic, with a little fireplace, plants and boho decor. The listing said it was connected to the host’s home, but I didn’t think much of that. I just wanted a quiet place to write for a few weeks. But the home had a big window with curtains that didn’t close, leaving me feeling exposed. As I sat on the couch typing on my laptop, the host would slowly walk across the patio to “water a plant” and stare at me several times a day. She sent frequent WhatsApp messages to check in with me. One day, she banged on the front door while I was on a call with a client, asking if she could come inside to bring in a bar stool. At that point, I decided to leave and go to a hotel for my last few days.
  3. Unfair bad reviews. The idea behind Airbnb reviews is a good one: hosts can learn about guests before agreeing to host, and guests can get an idea of any potential pitfalls about a property or host before renting. In practice, though, you can get an unfair bad review with zero ability to do anything about it.I ended up getting my first-ever bad review from the host who was angry I contacted Airbnb about her invading my privacy. She stated that I left early for work reasons and then demanded a refund, neither of which were true. I actually left because I felt uncomfortable and never requested a refund at all. But Airbnb wouldn’t do anything, even when I sent them the receipt for my stay at a hotel near the vacation rental.
  4. Onerous off-platform rental contracts. I recently rented an Airbnb for a spring meetup in Kentucky with a friend from college. She lives in Illinois, and I live in Georgia, so the Bluegrass State is halfway for us. We chose a beautiful home with a hot tub in Bowling Green. After booking and paying for the Airbnb, I got a note from the host stating I’d receive a rental contract by email. When I got a chance to read it, I sent it to the friend I’m meeting, an attorney. The contract was full of problematic clauses, including releasing the host from any liability even in the case of negligence. In online forums, I learned this practice is becoming more and more common among hosts. Because more than 48 hours had passed since booking, I had to jump through hoops to get a refund.

The vacation rental market has evolved as it’s gained popularity. Hoteliers have an opportunity to look at what’s not going right for guests so they can woo unhappy guests back by playing up the advantages of a good hotel.