EMarketer this week predicted that by 2021, nearly one in four U.S. adults will have slept in an Airbnb property. And while that might be likely, my first experience at an Airbnb this week has me asking what I think is a much more important question: How many of the people who try it will go back?
So that probably gives you a hint that my experience is was not quite what I had expected. Attending a destination wedding in Israel and finding that the preferred properties for the wedding – and every other Jerusalem hotel I knew – were fully booked for the night of July 3, my husband and I decided to do some first-hand research into the Airbnb experience. So we found a “brand new apartment” right on Ben Yehuda Street, just a block from the hotel where rest of the wedding party was staying, and signed up.
We started by choosing an apartment priced higher than the hotel, thinking that would assure a level of quality and comfort. The booking went smoothly; the apartment owners were friendly and communicative, giving us phone numbers and email addresses to use if we needed anything, and emailing us pages upon pages of maps and advice and things to do.
So much, in fact, that we never did read it all. Let’s call that the first step toward the proverbial corner where Bad Luck meets Airbnb Support Issues.
Surprise number one: Ben Yehuda Street is a pedestrian-only mall. While the local hotels may have entrances on Ben Yehuda, they also have entrances on the next street over, where taxis can pull up with your luggage. Our apartment has no such luxury. So we begin our stay by dragging our own luggage for a block and a half. Then of course there were no bellmen, so we drag everything upstairs too. It’s about 90 degrees out; we enter a hot apartment and quickly turn on the air conditioning.
Then we try to access the internet. It doesn’t work. We call the phone number they had given us, and David and my husband spend an hour trying to get it running. Not happening. And there is no TV, only Netflix – which requires an internet connection. So no TV either.
Okay, it’s late now anyway. We head up the steps to the loft sleeping area that looked so pretty in the pictures – only to discover that the owners have added this loft themselves to make the apartment appear more spacious. Unfortunately, it is only about three feet from floor to ceiling. It is unbearably hot, having trapped the heat of the day, and there is no bed, just a mattress on the floor. A nice mattress with nice bedding that looked fine in the photos, but a mattress on the floor nevertheless. We get down on our hands and knees and crawl onto the mattress.
Then we hear the unmistakable sound of running water. The toilet tank is overflowing and flooding the bathroom floor. We jiggle the handle and it stops, but there is water everywhere and no mop. We call David again; this time he does not answer. We email Airbnb Support, they promise to respond within 24 hours. But it is now midnight and we have nowhere else to go, so we leave the water on the floor and go to sleep. In the morning we head to a pretty little boutique property, the Shamai Suites, around the corner.
So I come away from my first and hopefully last Airbnb experience convinced once again that you can buy many things online, and usually all will be fine. But as every travel agent knows, there is no getting back a vacation day gone wrong.
In the end, there is just no substitute for a human being – at a hotel front desk or at the travel agency next door – whose role is to ensure that every single day of your trip is perfect.