Unreliable bed bazaar 

At Airbnb’s Q3 results, CEO & founder Brian Chesky was asked about plans to grow the platform. He said: “If we just keep focusing on reliability, making sure that when you book, you know what you’re going to get and if this is ever a problem, you have an excellent customer service that is nearly as good as a front desk or as good as a front desk then I think there could be in the years to come a tipping point where many people could choose Airbnb.”

The viewing public did not have long to wait to hear about how this was going to work. By investing in people going from home to home, checking the listings? By hosts going and checking each other’s homes? Something to do with AI?

In the end it was something to do with going back to the year 2000, when TripAdvisor was launched. Because yes, the answer to reliability is good old reviews and the wisdom of the crowd. Those properties which are most “most-loved homes on Airbnb based on ratings, reviews, and reliability” will be rated as…Guest Favourites. There was no word at the time of writing as to whether this meant they would cost more – to buy or list – or what this meant for the Superhost ranking.

Reviews on this platform have always been open to interpretation because both the guest and the venue are reviewed, so the incentive to be truthful is reduced. Likewise, there is the option for both private and public reviewing of the property, with the push to make the private review more…truthful.

The group said: “Each home is one-of-a-kind, and this uniqueness is what sets Airbnb apart. But guests have told us that with so much variety, it can be hard to know what they’re going to get. This is why many people prefer hotels, and it’s the number one obstacle preventing them from booking on Airbnb.”

That and being accused of stealing the fish, but we’ll get to that in a bit. 

Chesky said: “People often describe checking into an Airbnb as a  ‘moment of truth’— when you find out if the home you booked meets your expectations. Too often, it doesn’t. We’re changing that today. With Guest Favourites, revamped reviews, and the new Listings tab, you’ll now know exactly what to expect every time you book.”

The AI bit, for fans of underusing technology which has extensive potential, was a set of new tools for hosts to manage their listing and showcase “the details guests care about most”, including an AI-powered photo tour. 

So back to the fish. The difference between hotels and Airbnbs is that, when you check out, you don’t also clean out the mini fridge. Or strip the bed. Or attempt to erase any of the scenes of debauchery. And part of that is the idea that this is someone’s home, so fair enough. Often it’s not and will be cleaned by a team as professional as that in a hotel, but never mind.

What you also do is take photos of everything you have done, because a significant proportion of the time, you are likely to get kickback about breakages, thefts or stealing their ornamental fish. And, because Airbnb is not a court of law, it is your word against the host. And your ability to sell yourself as a future guest which is at stake. 

At the results call, Chesky told analysts: “I think our core business could be significantly larger than it is today, even if we didn’t do anything new. And the reason I believe this is the following: I believe that almost every single person who stays in a hotel could stay in Airbnb if, number one, they knew about all the benefits of Airbnb and number two, we made sure that our service was sufficiently reliable to be an alternative.”

Will having more reviews help? No, the system is flawed and that’s before you get into any of the guest psychology aspects. The only way you can make listings accurate is by visiting them and Airbnb is a tech platform, not a hospitality company, so it won’t be doing that.

Could more people use Airbnb over hotels? Chesky has been working to try and make listings cheaper after they had crept up and if he is successful, then yes, more people will use it. Will they see the stay, cost of fish or no, as a comparable experience to a hotel? At the economy end, yes. Elsewhere, the models offered by Marriott and Accor come with more facts, not opinions, at their elbows. 

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