Documenting the source of the problem & how to fix it
I have been on an extended trip over the last 4 months and have stayed at many hotels and AirBnbs in 9 different countries. The majority of my experiences have been very positive, but I can’t say that’s been universally true. I am connected with roughly half of my AirBnb “hosts” on chatting such as WeChat and WhatsApp. I have met many wonderful people and have had a lot of very memorable and interesting experiences. AirBnb creates many situations that would not be possible otherwise, and I have had many wonderful conversations with people that wouldn’t really be possible in our increasingly isolated tech culture.
AirBnb is a great way of meeting new people in our modern era
Social experiences and meeting new people in public is difficult when everyone is very interested in their phones or has their favorite music blaring in their ears.
My top ways to meet people when traveling have been:
1) Taking very long trains and talking with other bored passengers in your cabin (downloading Google Translate languages offline can come in very handy here)
2) Meeting guests and hosts in an AirBnb if you are sharing it with others
3) Experiencing problems when a certain hotel booking website where the hotel can’t find your reservation for 2 hours so you have drinks with the person who patiently helped translate
4) Being stuck in a crowded train and talking with the person jammed against you
5) Having friends introduce you to their friends
Accidentally crossing the street at the wrong time and having imaginative profanities yelled your way
Unlike AirBnb, I have not met many people while staying in hotels. The hotel staff meets many hundreds of people a day so unfortunately you are another generic face asking them for things. AirBnb however, can force you to be a bit uncomfortable. Sharing common spaces with people you knew and didn’t know would be there, forces you to meet people you wouldn’t otherwise. However, my biggest discovery over months of staying in AirBnbs is that AirBnb ratings are far from informative, and giving an accurate rating can be quite impossible in some situations.
AirBnb uses double blind ratings, so in theory you should be able to rate honestly without having your opinion be influenced by the other party’s rating (the “host” in this case). However, because you have such close contact with the host, and you might even be their friend or want to talk or meet up with them again on WhatsApp, you can’t really be honest without opening up yourself to harassment or ruining a pleasant friendship or acquaintance. I’ve stayed in situations that are less than ideal, but because ratings are not private, I now know the negative ratings I see on AirBnb are only the ratings of the most honest people and/or the least conscious of people’s feelings (read jerks).
To improve this system, I recommend the following:
1) Making ratings private from the hosts forever. Same with the guests. This can be accomplished by “laundering” the reviews of say the last 5 users and put them in random order one at a time. This would delay the rating system, sure, but it would ensure that AirBnb ratings are much more honest and guests and hosts really know what to expect.
2) Make a shorter review system, it’s incredibly time consuming to do an AirBnb review. I will only do it for people I really enjoyed staying with and who I like. That’s not how you get an accurate rating system.
Maybe I am missing some hidden incentives at AirBnb to have more positive ratings for all parties than are warranted.
Maybe there is a strategic method behind biasing reviews to the positive end for both guests and hosts.
After the IPO, maybe some analyst will dig up this blog post and make a stink about this.
Maybe everyone is okay with the status quo.
As an entrepreneur I look at things I see and want to make them better. I am optimistic that it's possible that I have fewer unpleasant situations in AirBnbs in the future, with these or similar improvements.