A Rant on AirBnB Ratings & Pricing

Heather Vescent
Jun 23, 2016 · 5 min read

I’m an AirBnB host. A “Superhost.” I am also a social scientist that studies and is paid to speak on reputation and the Sharing Economy.

Recently, AirBnB increased the number of questions they ask in their reviews. Especially review of hosts. When you review a host, you go through 4 or 5 screens, asking you about your experience with them, the listing and the neighborhood.

This is a big change.

What is Value?

One of the questions they ask is about the value of the listing. Who decides on the value? Is it based on money? The experience? There is no black and white on value. What I value, someone else might not. Someone might value price, and not consider detailed personalized local information as valuable.

I’m a Superhost. This means I go above and beyond to make my guests feel comfortable and at home in my home — a really special geodesic dome in the Mojave Desert. Not all guests are a good fit for my house. And I am very selective, only accepting reservations from people I think will enjoy, respect and “vibe” with the location.

I’m not AirBnBing for the money. Well, sure, I like the money, because it enables me to make improvements — like plant trees, get better sheets and new pillows, etc. But the point of allowing people to stay in the dome is for them to share the experience of my house.

So I’m absolutely livid, that AirBnB notifies me, as if it’s a problem, that my last 3 ratings for “Value” have been only 4 stars. Like 4 stars is a problem? Like what the fuck do they mean by “value?”

Apples to what?

I have a premium listing. You want a cheap place to stay? Stay at the Motel 6, or the Hampton Inn and spend $50–80 a night. You want to stay in a Geodesic Dome? Well, there are 4 within a 20 mile area. Sure, camp in one, that’s about $85, no running water. But the other two? They are more than my current summer rate of $150, and my regular rate is right in line with those.

My listing is priced equally or cheaper to all those for the number of people at those other locations, for the amenities, and the design. Additionally, I provide detailed personalized location guidance & recommendations.

Do not dare, compare my property to other listings. Isn’t that the point of AirBnB. Unique listings? Not cookie-cutter hotel rooms? How many of them give 5 pages of local listings, telling them which coffee sucks, and where the best food is?

Unless something is dramatically underpriced, ALL guests are going to ask to pay less and want more. I had BAD experiences with guests when I priced my place too low in the early days. It attracted people who did not take care of my place, and I had damage (that I did not report because you didn’t have damage reporting functionality at the time). I raised my prices in response to these ungrateful, inconsiderate “guests” and the damage the inflicted on my unique property.

Let’s talk about REGULATION

I worked for 15 months to change the local laws and enact regulation to allow AirBnBing LEGALLY in my community while many listings in the Joshua Tree area are ILLEGAL and unpermitted. Still they remain on AirBnB and AirBnB doesn’t check this. I went through the local permitting process to become LEGAL. And I pay local taxes as well.

AirBnB provided no support, no help, no nothing during this process.

Let me state that again.

AirBnB did NOTHING, to help me, and a few other hosts, convince my local City Council to ALLOW — by accepting a new city ordinance permitting short term vacation home rentals. Me and the other locals CHANGED OUR LOCAL LAW by OURSELVES.

AirBnB takes their fee, enabling a global platform, but what do they do to support the local community? How much of their platform is a commons?

Is it valuable that I am legal, that I pay my quarterly TOT tax, back into the community? Would it be more valuable if I had listed illegally with a lower price — what AirBnB might be considering a market price, if they didn’t take into consider the additional community costs like regulation and taxation and the emotional costs like being a good neighbor and showing the city that allowing AirBnB is not going to put the local hotels out of business or there will be an increase in underage drinking at parties hosted at AirBnBs? Or damage that the city has to pay for because some AirBnB guest does… oh, I have no idea what, but that the city would have to pay for, so more insurance to ensure the city won’t have to pay any costs for some possible thing that might go wrong by an AirBnB guest. You’re not paying that cost AirBnB — I am.

Back to value

Who decides what value is? Is it the dollar value? How is the emotional/human experience valued? The value to society? The value to the future? The value to planet earth?

It’s no secret the AirBnB wants to get into the reputation management business. AirBnB collected lots of data about us — user generated reviews.

How will they use their review data?

Will they monetize this data? Selling an AirBnB FICO like reputation score? Who will decide what these FICO like AirBnB ratings mean or how they are puzzled together? Will it be a transparent process? Will there be oversight and regulation?

Both the users and hosts pay a fee to use their service already? How greedy will AirBnB get?

I’m concerned that these additional questions, and this pressure on hosts (like me) to drop my price because of … 3, 4 star value ratings... will have a negative impact on my AirBnB host experience? And ruin or at least minimally dilute my ability to provide the best, most unique experience I can — at the cost of their homogeneity.

How do they come up with their “recommended price?” Are they comparing my listing to other comparable listings — like other unique Geodesic domes with star projectors in the loft, great stereo systems, two fire pits and 5 pages of personalized local directions, restaurant and hike recommendations? I doubt so. I have worked hard to create my listing incomparable. The dollar value is but one small aspect of the entire experience.

Finally, I will say, I have hesitated to bring up these criticisms. Who is to say, AirBnB won’t bury my listing, or hasn’t already? I mean, that’s kind of Silicon Valley’s reputation these days. And my trust with AirBnB is eroding.

pps. I would also like to rate AirBnB’s features, and their “releases,” which are frankly too frequent. Can I also rate the product manager who came up with the shitty pricing idea? What about the engineer who introduced a bug that caused me to have a communication error with my host in Melbourne? Where are these ratings AirBnB?

It’s a slippery slope isn’t it?

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