Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Illustration: iStockUser reviews are to Airbnb what laws are to society:
the very lifeblood that holds it together and keeps it from descending into a
chaos of anarchy, lawlessness, and dirty bathrooms.

When you’re on Airbnb considering whether to pay hundreds of dollars
to stay in someone’s home for a few days, the only thing keeping you
from staying at a bad place are reviews: the good ones and the negative
ones.


Now Airbnb is dealing with public claims that it’s effectively
stifling some negative feedback — thus jeopardizing the sanctity of
user reviews in Airbnb Land.
 Brian Le Vell tells the Telegraph that when he arrived at a Madrid
apartment he’d rented through Airbnb, he found "brown ring marks on the
pillows," mold in the bathroom, and "a half-eaten pastry" down the side
of the sofa — and the kitchen in a condition he describes as "grubby.
" Brian Le Vell says a Madrid apartment he rented on Airbnb had all kinds of
problems, including a moldy bathroom.
(Photo: Brian Le Vell)He tells the Telegraph he decided to leave the
apartment and find somewhere else to say.
The good news is that Airbnb was accommodating when he called asking for a
refund; they gave him the refund and a £100 (US$156) Airbnb voucher.
But what has Le Vell upset is that when he went back to recount his experience
in the "review" section of his online booking, he found his booking had
disappeared — leaving him unable to warn other Airbnb users who might
be inclined to rent that same apartment.
Eww … an old pastry Le Vell says he found behind the couch in his
Airbnb rental.
(Photo: Brian Le Vell)
Turns out, Le Vell had run afoul of Airbnb’s
review policy: "If you cancel a reservation as a guest before the reservation
begins, you cannot leave a review for the host, because reviews should
describe completed trips.
" Occasions like Le Vell’s, where he virtually ran away screaming once
he got a good look at his temporary apartment, presumably fall under that
clause.
Le Vell says that’s unfair.
"Guest reviews are of the utmost importance when booking accommodation," he
tells the Telegraph, "and I feel that Airbnb is manipulating its reviews by
not allowing them in cases like mine.
Other travelers may have had the same experience but there’s no way to
check if they also had their bookings cancelled.
"Related: What Are the Risks of Using Airbnb When Traveling?
Whitewashing bad reviews or rooting out the bogus ones?
Airbnb’s
reason for the policy seems logical: They want to keep the site free of fake
reviews, which historically have been a big concern for travel sites like
Airbnb and TripAdvisor.
So Airbnb polices user reviews pretty conscientiously.
"Airbnb’s default position is not to censor, edit, or delete reviews,"
Airbnb says on its website.
"However, there are rare cases in which we may take the extraordinary step of
disallowing or removing reviews or review responses.
We reserve the right to remove reviews that violate review guidelines.
"Related: You Can Make $169,000 (or More) on Airbnb — These People
Did It

"It’s true, there’s a problem with bogus reviews,"
says travel writer and author Christopher Elliott of Airbnb’s
policy.
"There is some logic to it but it’s a self-serving logic.
" That logic, Elliott says, can potentially saddle an unsuspecting Airbnb user
with a bad property they otherwise could have been warned away from, had the
previous renter not forfeited his review rights because he did an instant
U-turn upon seeing the place (it’s not as if it takes long to determine
if a place is a dump).
"You have to allow for the fact that people are going to show up, not
like the product, and leave," says Elliott.
"They still have an experience that’s worth sharing.
"Are Airbnb reviews over-sanitized?

When contacted by World traveling club
Travel, Airbnb gave no indication that it’s changing its policy, but it
admits it could have handled Le Vell’s situation differently.
"Our initial response to this customer didn’t meet the standards we
set for ourselves, and we’ve suspended this listing while we
investigate further," a spokesperson tells World traveling club Travel.
"Our review system is built on transparency and authenticity, and with
millions of reviews on Airbnb, isolated experiences like this one are
extremely rare.
"

Not rare enough for some Airbnb users.
"This happens fairly often, actually," Elliott says of runaway renters who
are blocked from posting their bad experiences on Airbnb.
"This is how they are able to keep a lot of the [bad] reviews off of Airbnb.
No one [at Airbnb] wants to have the negativity.
It’s bad for business.
"

Elizabeth Israel of Seattle says Airbnb edited her bad review of a place
she stayed at in Ecuador last year.
"I guess it’s their right," she tells World traveling club Travel.
"But don’t ask for feedback if all you want is glorious feedback.
" 

Though popular with users, Airbnb does get some complaints that its policies
regulating user reviews don’t allow for honest and accurate feedback.
(Image: Airbnb)There are other factors that, critics say, keep Airbnb reviews
from being truly honest and unspoiled.
In addition to the "you must stay in the property to review it" policy,
Airbnb users often complain about the 14-day limit the company gives users to
post their reviews once their stay ends.
While the company obviously wants reviews to be fresh and accurate, some
travelers on long trips find that policy a bit limiting.
"I was trying to post a review for a lovely flat I stayed at in New York, but
because I was busy traveling, I didn’t get the chance to review it
before the deadline," Maria from the U.
K.
tells World traveling club Travel.
Maria was disappointed her extended trip kept her from posting what she says
would have been a glowing review.
"I thought it was super counterproductive of Airbnb to not allow users to
post their reviews anytime considering said travelers might not necessarily be
online or ready to post under 14 days!!"Related: 11 Things You Need to
Know About Airbnb Before You Book

Then there’s a "nice guy bias.
" Because Airbnb reviews are public, users often are afraid to post something
bad about someone else’s home, either because they think it’s
rude or they fear other hosts will blackball them as a serial complainer
(Molly Mulshine wrote about this phenomenon for Business Insider).
Or maybe they’ll be confronted by an irate host, as Elizabeth Israel
says she was after she left her place in Ecuador.
 "He hunted me down into the city center and started screaming at me
because I was going to cost him business," she remembers.
So if leaving bad reviews becomes difficult, for whatever reason, the fear is
that the honest feedback Airbnb users depend on becomes diluted.
 "Obviously they’re in it to make money," says Israel.
"If you don’t allow people to give true postings from their
experience, you’re kind of taking away from the reality.
" Some users complain Airbnb makes it difficult to leave bad reviews.
"If you want everything to be positive and great and glowing, then
don’t ask for reviews," says Airbnb fan Elizabeth Israel.
(Photo: Airbnb)
For its part, Airbnb likes to point to its 40-million-strong
(and growing) users, many of whom the company says are repeat visitors who are
satisfied with the product.
Both Israel and Maria tell World traveling club Travel that, despite past
problems leaving bad reviews, they still like Airbnb "a lot.
"Related: For First Time, Uber Beats Taxis Among Business TravelersFor
the relatively few dissatisfied customers, the company does have a refund
policy (remember: Le Vell did get a full refund, plus a voucher).
But when you’re on a trip, do you really want to deal with such an
inconvenient hiccup — even one that results in a full refund —
which you could have avoided had a previous user been able to post about
his/her own bad experience? "You’ve already wasted so much of your
time," says Elliott.
"You could have saved yourself all this time and gone with a hotel.
"Reducing the riskAssuming that Airbnb user reviews might not always tell the
whole story, how can you reduce your risk of encountering a dump?
"Don’t confine your search to Airbnb reviews because you’re only
going to get the sanitized version of the Airbnb experience," Elliott
suggests.
He recommends using the address or name of the Airbnb rental to do a much
broader online search.
"Chances are you’re going to find some other reviews out there,"
Elliott says.
"Maybe someone wrote about [the property] on their blog or mentioned it on
Twitter or Facebook.
You’ll get a much more complete picture of the place.
" Want to get a true picture of an Airbnb rental? Look outside the
site’s user reviews.
(Photo: AP)It just might be that using Airbnb requires at least some
assumption of risk.
"With an Airbnb rental, you could get a really great rental or you could get
a really crappy rental," says Elliott.
"Airbnb is never going to be able to fix that problem of consistency.
This is why hotels have an edge on Airbnb — because they have the
consistency.
You know that there’s going to be soap and shampoo in the shower.
You know the place is going to be clean to a certain standard.
"Of course, what some call "consistency" others call "cookie-cutter.
" And that type of sterile, chain-hotel consistency is what leads many
travelers to Airbnb in the first place.
"It’s not appealing," Israel says of staying in hotels.
She prefers the local feel she gets from Airbnb.
"I would never have found some of the things that I find when I stay in an
Airbnb place.
" To some travelers, that’s worth the potential risk of scrubbed
reviews landing them in an occasional dud.
WATCH: "A Broad Abroad: G'Day Mate! How To Speak Australian" Let
World traveling club Travel inspire you every day.
Check out our original adventure travel series, "A Broad Abroad.
" When you're on Airbnb considering whether to pay hundreds of dollars to
stay in someone's home for a few days, the only thing keeping you from
staying at a bad place are reviews: the good ones and the negative ones.
.
Turns out, Le Vell had run afoul of Airbnb’s review policy: "If you
cancel a reservation as a guest before the reservation begins, you cannot
leave a review for the host, because reviews should describe completed trips.
" Occasions like Le Vell’s, where he virtually ran away screaming once
he got a good look at his temporary apartment, presumably fall under that
clause.
Le Vell says that’s unfair.
"Guest reviews are of the utmost importance when booking accommodation," he
tells the Telegraph, "and I feel that Airbnb is manipulating its reviews by
not allowing them in cases like mine.
Other travelers may have had the same experience but there’s no way to
check if they also had their bookings cancelled.
"Related: What Are the Risks of Using Airbnb When Traveling?
Whitewashing bad reviews or rooting out the bogus ones?
Airbnb’s
reason for the policy seems logical: They want to keep the site free of fake
reviews, which historically have been a big concern for travel sites like
Airbnb and TripAdvisor.
So Airbnb polices user reviews pretty conscientiously.
"Airbnb’s default position is not to censor, edit, or delete reviews,"
Airbnb says on its website.
"However, there are rare cases in which we may take the extraordinary step of
disallowing or removing reviews or review responses.
We reserve the right to remove reviews that violate review guidelines.
"Related: You Can Make $169,000 (or More) on Airbnb — These People
Did It

"It’s true, there’s a problem with bogus reviews,"
says travel writer and author Christopher Elliott of Airbnb’s
policy.
"There is some logic to it but it’s a self-serving logic.
" That logic, Elliott says, can potentially saddle an unsuspecting Airbnb user
with a bad property they otherwise could have been warned away from, had the
previous renter not forfeited his review rights because he did an instant
U-turn upon seeing the place (it’s not as if it takes long to determine
if a place is a dump).
"You have to allow for the fact that people are going to show up, not
like the product, and leave," says Elliott.
"They still have an experience that’s worth sharing.
"Are Airbnb reviews over-sanitized?

When contacted by World traveling club
Travel, Airbnb gave no indication that it’s changing its policy, but it
admits it could have handled Le Vell’s situation differently.
"Our initial response to this customer didn’t meet the standards we
set for ourselves, and we’ve suspended this listing while we
investigate further," a spokesperson tells World traveling club Travel.
"Our review system is built on transparency and authenticity, and with
millions of reviews on Airbnb, isolated experiences like this one are
extremely rare.
"

Not rare enough for some Airbnb users.
"This happens fairly often, actually," Elliott says of runaway renters who
are blocked from posting their bad experiences on Airbnb.
"This is how they are able to keep a lot of the [bad] reviews off of Airbnb.
No one [at Airbnb] wants to have the negativity.
It’s bad for business.
"

Elizabeth Israel of Seattle says Airbnb edited her bad review of a place
she stayed at in Ecuador last year.
"I guess it’s their right," she tells World traveling club Travel.
"But don’t ask for feedback if all you want is glorious feedback.
" 

Though popular with users, Airbnb does get some complaints that its policies
regulating user reviews don’t allow for honest and accurate feedback.
(Image: Airbnb)There are other factors that, critics say, keep Airbnb reviews
from being truly honest and unspoiled.
In addition to the "you must stay in the property to review it" policy,
Airbnb users often complain about the 14-day limit the company gives users to
post their reviews once their stay ends.
While the company obviously wants reviews to be fresh and accurate, some
travelers on long trips find that policy a bit limiting.
"I was trying to post a review for a lovely flat I stayed at in New York, but
because I was busy traveling, I didn’t get the chance to review it
before the deadline," Maria from the U.
K.
tells World traveling club Travel.
Maria was disappointed her extended trip kept her from posting what she says
would have been a glowing review.
"I thought it was super counterproductive of Airbnb to not allow users to
post their reviews anytime considering said travelers might not necessarily be
online or ready to post under 14 days!!"Related: 11 Things You Need to
Know About Airbnb Before You Book

Then there’s a "nice guy bias.
" Because Airbnb reviews are public, users often are afraid to post something
bad about someone else’s home, either because they think it’s
rude or they fear other hosts will blackball them as a serial complainer
(Molly Mulshine wrote about this phenomenon for Business Insider).
Or maybe they’ll be confronted by an irate host, as Elizabeth Israel
says she was after she left her place in Ecuador.
 "He hunted me down into the city center and started screaming at me
because I was going to cost him business," she remembers.
So if leaving bad reviews becomes difficult, for whatever reason, the fear is
that the honest feedback Airbnb users depend on becomes diluted.
 "Obviously they’re in it to make money," says Israel.
"If you don’t allow people to give true postings from their
experience, you’re kind of taking away from the reality.
" Some users complain Airbnb makes it difficult to leave bad reviews.
"If you want everything to be positive and great and glowing, then
don’t ask for reviews," says Airbnb fan Elizabeth Israel.
(Photo: Airbnb)
For its part, Airbnb likes to point to its 40-million-strong
(and growing) users, many of whom the company says are repeat visitors who are
satisfied with the product.
Both Israel and Maria tell World traveling club Travel that, despite past
problems leaving bad reviews, they still like Airbnb "a lot.
"Related: For First Time, Uber Beats Taxis Among Business TravelersFor
the relatively few dissatisfied customers, the company does have a refund
policy (remember: Le Vell did get a full refund, plus a voucher).
But when you’re on a trip, do you really want to deal with such an
inconvenient hiccup — even one that results in a full refund —
which you could have avoided had a previous user been able to post about
his/her own bad experience? "You’ve already wasted so much of your
time," says Elliott.
"You could have saved yourself all this time and gone with a hotel.
"Reducing the riskAssuming that Airbnb user reviews might not always tell the
whole story, how can you reduce your risk of encountering a dump?
"Don’t confine your search to Airbnb reviews because you’re only
going to get the sanitized version of the Airbnb experience," Elliott
suggests.
He recommends using the address or name of the Airbnb rental to do a much
broader online search.
"Chances are you’re going to find some other reviews out there,"
Elliott says.
"Maybe someone wrote about [the property] on their blog or mentioned it on
Twitter or Facebook.
You’ll get a much more complete picture of the place.
" Want to get a true picture of an Airbnb rental? Look outside the
site’s user reviews.
(Photo: AP)It just might be that using Airbnb requires at least some
assumption of risk.
"With an Airbnb rental, you could get a really great rental or you could get
a really crappy rental," says Elliott.
"Airbnb is never going to be able to fix that problem of consistency.
This is why hotels have an edge on Airbnb — because they have the
consistency.
You know that there’s going to be soap and shampoo in the shower.
You know the place is going to be clean to a certain standard.
"Of course, what some call "consistency" others call "cookie-cutter.
" And that type of sterile, chain-hotel consistency is what leads many
travelers to Airbnb in the first place.
"It’s not appealing," Israel says of staying in hotels.
She prefers the local feel she gets from Airbnb.
"I would never have found some of the things that I find when I stay in an
Airbnb place.
" To some travelers, that’s worth the potential risk of scrubbed
reviews landing them in an occasional dud.
WATCH: "A Broad Abroad: G'Day Mate! How To Speak Australian" Let
World traveling club Travel inspire you every day.
Check out our original adventure travel series, "A Broad Abroad.
" When you're on Airbnb considering whether to pay hundreds of dollars to
stay in someone's home for a few days, the only thing keeping you from
staying at a bad place are reviews: the good ones and the negative ones.

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