Complicity

I had an interesting experience today.  As I was in the air on my way to San Francisco, I got a text from my Airbnb host saying that they had made a mistake and accidentally double-booked my room.  I ended up taking their offer to cancel and booked a hotel room (at a steep increase in price).  Then they asked if I would call Airbnb and say the cancellation was mutual, so that they wouldn’t get “dinged”.  I didn’t like that idea.

Then, after I asked for a regular refund, and after some more back and forth, it appeared there was some confusion between my host and her assistant, and the room actually was available, and no I could not have a cancellation.   This was a problem because my new room was already book, with no way to cancel without paying a big penalty.

The whole situation felt fishy, scammy.  I looked back in the reviews of the apartment, and I noticed a few other last minute cancellations (I hadn’t looked super closely the first time).  Texting with my colleague Bethany about it, we talked about the importance of writing a real review of the situation and processing a formal complaint through Airbnb.  I thought: it’s so great that Airbnb is there to handle disputes like this, to be the sheriff when people go off the rails and do shady stuff.

I made the point that I needed a cancellation, and finally the host asked if instead of a formal cancellation, could I accept a paypal refund.  I thought about this, and my first response was: no way — I want this to go on the official record so this kind of shady behavior can’t continue.

Then, I remembered earlier in our conversations, when I first booked the apartment.  In the instructions, the host suggested I tell the front desk I was a “friend”, visiting (because, of course Airbnb isn’t allowed in that building).  In my mind, I played along just fine with that, happy to be complicit in our little ruse — because the apartment looked great, and what’s the big deal anyway.

So, fast forward to our refund situation: now I no longer feel like I have any moral high ground to demand a formal close out — in my mind, I was complicit in the shadiness when I was cool with fooling the apartment building.  How is that any different than agreeing to sidestep the Airbnb platform rules?

Just goes to show how difficult it is to build a real trusted environment.  On the one hand, Airbnb does a fantastic job building trust and accountability using its platform.  On the other hand, a wink and a nod on one end of the platform (renting an apartment where I shouldn’t) makes it hard to really stand up for the rules on the other end (reviewing the host for bad behavior).

Our chat in the Airbnb app ended with the host saying “U r nice person.”  Not sure how I feel about that.

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Nick Grossman

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