Wicky wicky wah wah, is Airbnb still the Wild West?

Last week saw Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky get all excited on Twitter and announce that ‘Tomorrow morning, Airbnb will be different’.

Call us learning organisms if you like, but alarm clocks weren’t set. Chesky is the Boy Who Cried Innovation and he’s very lucky indeed that he works in hospitality, where, if you allow them, hotels will still advertise that they offer ice. AROUND THE CLOCK. So the innovation competition is minimal.

So in good time and after a refreshing weekend, to the observance of this astounding change. And what have we learned? That Chesky has been using RightMove and hanging out with politicians.

The platform’s home page is now property porn, with homes renting in the tens of thousands of dollars per week there for the leering. There is also now property splitting, where digital nomads who were already home hopping can hop to new sites within trips. And there is a new thing called AirCover, which is there to protect the consumer against horrors like turning up somewhere and being unable to get in, or having the host cancel on you.

This is a neat politico trick which many might recognise; repurposing existing laws, calling them new and looking like you’re listening to the masses. It’s fair to say that in most countries in which Airbnb operates, there are consumer laws which mean that if the service advertised isn’t delivered, you’re getting your money back, AirCover or not.

But we could sit here all day and poke fun at what is, above all, a PR exercise, but that would be churlish and apparently being alive is all about learning or growing or somesuch.

It is far more interesting to look at what this swivel means for Airbnb’s aspirations. The platform’s main issue is that of supply and the control therein. Talk to people who haven’t used it and they’re freaked out at sharing someone else’s house and seeing them in their pants. Talk to people who have, and it’s dealing with the host that often comes up.

Increasingly, hosts tend to make their own rules and are aware of the power which the ability to review the guest brings. Final days in Airbnbs can often be a frenzy of cleaning (after already paying heft cleaning fees) to avoid bad reviews. But in peak times, stories coming to our ears are of naughty hosts ditching bookings from people getting the good rates in advance. Then, while those disappointed guests are searching again, the properties reappear at a higher rate. Telling the original hosts that the site is no longer available because family are visiting is a classic excuse.

Chesky has tried to address this with the ‘we’ll find guests a similar or better home, or we’ll refund them’ promise, if bookings are cancelled 30 days or fewer out. In high-volume periods and locations, it’s going to be hard to do anything but refund. These are the issues one faces with inventory you don’t control.

Back to RightMove and the new home page is very much angled towards the special and luxury. If you’re going to spend $55,000 on a property for the week are you using Airbnb? Seems like you might use a broker or a brand which could ensure that the property you’d booked would still be available when you showed up. But what’s intriguing for Airbnb is more so for hotels, which play happily in this space.

It’s all pointing one way for Chesky and pals; the ongoing effort to find a way to guarantee their inventory.

But we’re trying to be better people. See how we avoided a Will Smith joke?

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