The morning after a wedding in Vermont this summer, says Kate Lindsay in The Atlantic, my friends were happily recovering in a hot tub while I battled a rubbish disposal machine. Then I scrubbed the kitchen counter. “And stripped the bed. And took out the recycling.” Because whereas my friends had sensibly booked a hotel room, I had made the mistake of staying at an Airbnb. So, despite forking out for the $95 cleaning fee, I was stuck “completing a baffling list of pre-checkout chores”. Truth is, there’s something “a bit off” with Airbnb these days. When it launched in 2008, the idea seemed revelatory: hosts would make money from “that guest room no one uses”; visitors would get a cheap stay and a “uniquely personalised travel experience”. It felt “more casual than a hotel”, and all the better for it.
But Airbnb soon turned corporate. People bought up homes purely to list them on the site. “Mega hosts”, with 21 or more properties, now account for 30% of listings. Sure, it’s still cheaper than a hotel. But the romance has gone. Guests wanting somewhere “quaint and homey” end up in an “IKEA display room”; keys are kept in lockboxes, and local recommendations “in a binder that sits on a kitchen table”. Ultimately, Airbnb suffers from the same problem as all gig economy companies, like Uber and Etsy: if you frame yourself as a DIY alternative to an established industry, you can only grow “in the same direction” as the very thing you want to replace. So before long, everyone loses interest.