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.