The early days of Airbnb, like the early days of the internet, were full of promise. Here was a way for travelers to see the world while meeting hosts and enjoying authentic experiences, all on a shoestring budget.
Yet this promise, like the promise of the internet itself, has been corrupted by greed, lack of competition and poor product management.
Yes, Airbnb is to travel what Facebook is to the internet. In a word: terrible.
Airbnb properties don’t have full-time staff to address issues
‘Quirky’ is a generous way to describe Airbnb properties. ‘Suffering from a complete lack of quality control or oversight’ might be a less generous way. Setting aside safety concerns, which the platform spends millions of dollars to cover up according to a 2021 Bloomberg News report, staying at an Airbnb is often a game of roulette.
Listen, I enjoy adventurous travel experiences. And at the beginning of my time using Airbnb, I considered weird hosts and their oddball decoration choices part of the fun. But as hosting has become more corporatized, the horror stories have become less fun — and more depressing.
Checking into a house that smells like vomit doesn’t make for a very good story.
This points to a major difference between hotels and the current Airbnb: Hotels have a full-time staff ready to solve problems. Even the crummiest hotel will at least try to clear out a stench, whereas what you smell is what you get at many vacation rentals.
There’s no competition
I spend much of my life ranking airlines and hotels. The competition is fierce, with top programs jostling one another for top spots from year to year. This breeds improved experiences for customers who rely on rankings like these to choose where to spend their travel dollars.
Airbnb, on the other hand, has no meaningful competition. Comparing it with rival Vrbo only reinforces this point because Vrbo somehow manages to be even worse than Airbnb in every respect except, possibly, search functionality. Even Facebook has to compete with TikTok and Snapchat, while Airbnb enjoys a near monopoly.
There’s no way to find deals
Want to score a cheap flight? You can find innumerable tricks online, such as creating flight alerts and using miles.
Airbnb doesn’t have a loyalty program, which means there are no ‘points’ to earn or promotional bonuses to stack. It leaves pricing up to hosts, which makes sense, but this approach means that finding a deal for any given trip requires a combination of intense searching and luck.
And here’s another issue: Airbnb doesn’t allow searching for listings via third-party sites like Google Hotel Search or Hopper.
The bottom line
There was no single moment when Facebook became terrible. For a long time, it was a useful place to look at photos of your friends and maybe watch a funny video. Yet year after year and greedy decision after greedy decision, it became a wasteland.
Having dominated the competition and strong-armed local regulations, Airbnb has likewise begun to suffer from its own success. It was once an adventurous option for young travelers looking to see the world without going broke. Now it’s a commercialised, unregulated mess.
This article was originally appeared on the Nerdwallet.