Anecdotes: The Exotic Airbnb

The listing looked great. A luxurious rental tent with hardwood floors, nice furniture, attached enclosed bath and other comforts of home. The luxury tent was in a remote and extremely beautiful natural location. It looked fun – why not try it for a few days? There were many mostly glowing reviews and no negative reviews. A few reviewers mentioned the rough road leading up to the place. The listing itself was circumspect on this point. I messaged the host: Was it possible to reach his place in an ordinary rental car? He assured me that this would not be a problem, he had guests arriving in all kinds of vehicles including Priuses etc. He didn’t say anything else about getting to his place, so I went ahead and booked it as a stop on a planned road trip.

We arrived at the dirt access road in the late afternoon after a long drive and followed the host’s directions. When we started down the access road we found that not only was it unpaved, it was also very narrow and parts of it ran close along high cliffs over a ravine. This was unexpected and a bit shocking as there were no guard rails and it was obvious that any driving mistake could be fatal. We proceeded slowly. An oncoming car forced us uncomfortably close to the precipice on the right shoulder. We continued driving until we came to an especially narrow passage with deep, sheer drop-offs on both sides, where I stopped. This wasn’t fun and we weren’t even close to the tent. We had dinner plans in town. The prospect of more driving on this perilous road to reach our destination, followed by a brief rest and then a drive to dinner with a return after dark, was too much. We backed down the road to the nearest turnaround, did a 180 and left.

We considered our options. I would have been happy to cancel the Airbnb and eat the not-insignificant cost, find alternative lodging, even sleep in the car – anything to avoid the white-knuckle drive to the tent. However, the more we thought about our interaction with the Airbnb host, the more his omission of details about the treacherous road conditions seemed like an intentional evasion to avoid scaring off customers. Airbnb policy mandates disclosure in such situations. The host’s behavior seemed to be a clear violation of that policy.

There was another twist to the situation. According to Airbnb rules, if we cancelled at the last minute – as the host suggested we do – the host would keep something like 90% of our payment and we would not be allowed to post a review. OTOH, if the host cancelled we would receive a full refund. The host was obviously experienced with Airbnb and must have understood the rules about cancellation. Probably many of his guests did not.

After we raised these issues with the host he no longer seemed quite the friendly, homespun character he portrayed himself as in his Airbnb listing. We wondered if other guests had cancelled at the last minute after being blindsided by the hazardous road conditions. Guests who cancelled in this way would forfeit most of their rental payments as well as any opportunity to post negative reviews. A cynical person might suspect that the host liked it this way, as any last-minute cancellation by a guest would give him a free option to re-rent the place and double his rental income for the period of the cancelled visit. He wouldn’t even need to clean the property between guests.

We did not cancel. Instead we made clear to the host that we understood that Airbnb would be likely to interpret his nondisclosure of the road conditions as a problem, and asked for a full refund. He gave it to us. We were able to find other lodging and had a nice trip. Our experience with the luxury rental tent was a close call in more ways than one.

20 thoughts on “Anecdotes: The Exotic Airbnb”

  1. I have used AirBnb a few times. Once was good but another time was a slum.

    I haven’t used them in several years. We are going to CA in August and using my daughter’s time share.

  2. I haven’t used them in years either, since it seemed like they basically got turned into a site for condos owned by real estate companies instead of people’s houses…
    And I agree that pics are a must…

  3. I ask sincerely as a tech-tard: why didn’t you do a remote inspection with your map or route app?

  4. why didn’t you do a remote inspection with your map or route app?

    The address provided by the host, when entered in Google Maps, shows an area near the beginning of the access road and miles from the actual tent.

  5. “The address provided by the host, when entered in Google Maps, shows an area near the beginning of the access road and miles from the actual tent.”

    lol The middle wheel thing allows you to scroll.

  6. I was at a nice little bed and breakfast when i was dc that was a baker dozen years ago

  7. I guess Airbnb is really hit or miss. I’ve booked through them three times recently and have been wondering what the point is of ever bothering with a hotel. One was the full downstairs level of a house in a nice upscale neighborhood in Dayton, one a room in an old Victorian place near the downtown of Marshall, MI, and one a complete little house, also in a nice neighborhood, right next to a beautiful golf course in Springfield, IL. All were within easy reach of restaurants, grocery stores, and other retail places. There were no kids running up and down the halls screaming at all hours, nobody standing outside my door conversing loudly at 3:00 AM, no one in the next room watching their TV with the volume turned up all night, and none of the loud air conditioning and other noisy systems that seem ubiquitous in hotels these days. All were priced at around $100 per night. I guess I still have the Airbnb from hell to look forward to. I note in passing that the Lincoln Museum in Springfield has a couple of hologram presentations that are truly incredible. At the first one I was surprised that the presenter was doing such a great job, since he had to repeat the same show every 15 minutes. I both cases everything looked absolutely real. I wonder when Amazon will start selling Star Trek style holodecks.

    I do admit I’m somewhat disappointed that you lacked the spirit of adventure to continue to the tent, Jonathan. You might have found Tarzan there, like in one of the old Johnny Weismuller films after the safari had climbed up the Mutia Escarpment!

  8. Doug, I have had mostly excellent experiences with Airbnbs. This guy was operating on an entirely different level of weaseliness.

  9. A few years ago I had a doctor friend who did house exchanges. She and her husband would do swaps with owners in Europe. They lived in Newport Beach so they had a nice house and location. They would swap with someone in Tuscany, for example. I’ve never done it but they were quite happy with it.

  10. What is more distressing is that none of the reviewers said anything about this.

    Did they all have no problems getting here?

    Somebody should leave something.

    I ran into someone like that on eBay years ago. I bought a video VHS recorder (I did say it was years ago), and on receiving it found out that it did not function right.

    I email the seller who does not reply to me.

    30 days later he replies to me saying he was “out of town“ but in any event any problems you have after 30 days PayPal will not refund you. And he was not interested in refunding me.

    He too, knew the system. But I figure karma eventually catches up with those people.

    I’ve never used Airbnb although came close in Mendocino but it seemed inordinately expensive.

  11. I might add when I was reading this I was picturing something like one of those Internet pictures in Peru where a bus in the Andes is precariously on the edge and on the verge of falling into eternity.

    The kind of cliff where you don’t have to worry about the impact as you would starve to death before you hit the bottom :-)

  12. I would be inclined tho think that a truthful description of the road leading to the camp as “challenging, 4×4 strongly recommended” would have attracted as many people as it would have put off. It’s hard to tell how many of those it attracted would have overestimated their driving ability. It would give your putative host a little cover from liability. As it is, I can’t help believing that this will sooner or later end up as one of those Airbnb horror stories in the media.

    It doesn’t seem like a good way to run a business, either this host, of for Airbnb as a whole. I looked up their stock performance and see they are down 47% YTD and 24.5% for the month in a generally down market. They’re listed at 55 billion market cap and 71.4 P/E, so a big price and not much earnings. This fits right into David’s post about companies that are nothing but software. At base, all they are is an idea, an automated middleman. Then there’s the fact that some significant proportion of their “hosts” are operating in violation of various laws. I am under the impression that profiting from and acting as a conduit of funds to the perpetrators of illegal activities is generally called money laundering. Renting out a room or condo isn’t the same cooking meth but the law’s the law.

    Especially in the dark, all it would take would be one badly placed rock to leave you with a disabled vehicle, miles from help or even cell phone coverage. Getting a tow could be hard and expensive and the rental company would probably not be pleased. I note that even though my personal vehicle is a 4×4 pick up, the rental insurance on my policy wouldn’t cover me if I rented one. I don’t have to look very far on YouTube to see lots of examples of roads I’d foolish to try in my truck, much less a rental car.

    “lol The middle wheel thing allows you to scroll.”
    You must not get out much or you’d have heard any number of stories about people that have followed these so called maps to their misfortune up to and including their demise. If he had just scrolled, all he would have seen was a line on a screen just like all the others with no way to judge what the road was actually like.

  13. }}} 30 days later he replies to me saying he was “out of town“ but in any event any problems you have after 30 days PayPal will not refund you. And he was not interested in refunding me.

    I had a situation where they did not reply in a prompt manner, when i did not get what was purportedly sent. They sent “proof of mailing”, but, AFAICS, there was no actual address info available to me as to where whatever was sent, was sent (I figure they sent some cheap gew-gaw somewhere in the general vicinity, the recipient went, “WtF is this?” and said nothing to anyone). I did not wait for them to respond for more than a few days before raising the issue with paypal.

    Mind you, I suspected scam but trusted ppal, so i was ready to jump when nothing arrived despite supposed delivery.

    The scammer sent “proof of sending” to ppal, who “backed” him up, but I called attention to the fact that what was purportedly being sent HAD to weigh more than the 1lb that Fedex was showing as the package weight. Shortly after that, ppal refunded my money. No idea how many others may have gotten scammed by not being diligent on it.

    As far as AB&B, I’ve routinely had no issues, though, yes, pix, and always in a city i have some idea of, so I’d know/suspect if the area was sketchy…

  14. A 4×4 isn’t necessary, but this is a narrow road that passes next to cliffs. Some people might like to know this fact before they decide whether to visit.

    I don’t know if the user reviews are corrupt, but there is obvious selection bias in the reviews because people who cancel before arrival are not allowed to leave reviews. I didn’t cancel and I left a negative review. It is the only negative review that I remember seeing out of maybe a couple of hundred reviews. One might think there would be at least a few other negative reviews based on the road conditions.

    Airbnb adds value to the vacation rental market because it serves as a clearinghouse by which renters and property owners can find each other, and because it performs basic screening of renters and landlords. It also mediates disputes and provides insurance to property owners against wild-party scenarios and other damage. A friend of mine manages an Airbnb rental unit. The guests complained that the toilet was leaking. It turned out that these guests were using the toilet by squatting with their feet on the seat and that this practice put sufficient stress on the base of the toilet to break the seal. Airbnb reimbursed my friend for the repair.

  15. My lady and I have no permanent address. We’re retired and travel nomadically: North America, Latin America, Caribbean, Europe. Rely solely on AirBnB for housing; have stayed in dozens. A minor disappointment here or there but nothing to justify last minute or post-arrival cancellation. Thorough research and booking with AirBnB ‘SuperHosts’ is a good bet. Brand new hosts will often go out of their way to be accommodating to accumulate high ratings.

  16. I lived in the Colorado mountains for many years and then spent the next 20+ years driving through obscure corners of rural Texas, New Mexico and Oklahoma so my scale of sketchy might be different from someone else. Still, I would have felt very nervous proceeding along what I would consider a possible logging road when I was lead to expect something a bit more improved, especially in a rented vehicle where the contract you signed probably had enough fine print to make any off road mishap very expensive. That’s the problem with being lied to or gas lighted or whatever degree of lack of truthyness might apply. Once you know that the information you have been given is purposefully false, you have no way to judge just how false it may be. You wouldn’t think that someone would trick random strangers into attempting a rated 4×4 trail in a rented compact, but I’m often reminded that I am something of an optimist in that respect.

    I’ve been on many roads like the one you describe, very few of them didn’t get noticeably worse, the farther they went.

  17. Right. Roads like the road to the tent aren’t infrequent in that area. The problem was the lack of disclosure. The guy is a superhost with hundreds of reviews with a 4.8 or 4.9 average. The listing has many photos. Yet there is nothing in the listing about the road, and when you ask him a general question about the road his response omits some of the most important facts. It’s like you are running a vacation rental in Florida that’s next to a lake full of alligators, and a prospective guest asks if it’s safe for him to walk his dog in the evening near the lake, and you reply that there is a walking path next to the lake.

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