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Vacation rentals and homestays have seen exponential growth in popularity over the past few years. So much so that they are now common vernacular for almost everyone interested in travel — folks may be hard pressed to find someone who hasn’t heard of Airbnb at the very least. However, while the younger crowd, the ones who use a phone as an extension of their arm, will not hesitate to head to an online platform or mobile application to book a vacation rental, it may not be so natural to others.
For those who are accustomed to a travel agent guiding them through every step of the booking process, vacation rentals might seem a touch intimidating. Surrendering credit card information to a faceless computer to stay in a stranger’s home? Certainly seems counterintuitive to the safety lessons we learned as a kid. So this all begs the question, are vacation rentals safe? We explore the answer below.
On Airbnb alone, there are over 150 million users worldwide and around 650,000 hosts. There has also been about a 63% increase in guest arrivals in this past year (2018 – 2019). That can seem like an impossible demographic for a company like Airbnb to manage, especially remotely and through automated services, but they make it work.
Of the 80 million stays in 2016, it was reported that only around 5% of these were claimed to be unsatisfactory; although the percentage though could even be as low as 3%. Yes, that is still 4 million bogus stays, and that may seem alarming, however, only a small portion of these was caused by potentially dangerous situations. 21% of the approximately 4 million were caused by hosts canceling unexpectedly. 12% came from things like the home not being completely clean or some of the photos being inaccurate. Only about a quarter of the 5% reported were a result of scams or unsafe conditions.
Again, this may seem like a lot, but the more the results are broken down the less alarming the data becomes. Scams are usually always rectified by Airbnb support and/or through fraud protection provided by credit card companies or banks. Plus, most sites also either have internal payment methods that never reveal card information between guest and host and/or are backed by reputable payment software, like PayPal, which has tons of security. With that said, guests still need to be vigilant and avoid giving any extra money or paying in cash at the request of a shady host.
As for “unsafe conditions” this addresses a wide range of issues, while none of them are great, rarely are they legitimately threatening. For example, bug infestations greatly outnumber hostile hosts, whereas broken appliances rank monumentally higher than any kind of violence or break-in. Hidden cameras are also a part of this category; a subject that is currently getting a lot of attention in the news and can be read about here.
The best vacation rental sites not only put in place protections for their guests but also for those who are renting their homes. This is because hosts are obviously liable to have to deal with any damages or thefts resulting from bookings by rowdy or unsavory guests. One of the more brilliant ways this security is enforced is through the communal aspect of these sites. By requiring users to upload photos, confirm their identification, and leave reviews for each other, it is easier for hosts to understand who is about to come into their home. It equally makes it easy for a host to deny a guest if they see in their reviews that at someone else’s house they behaved in a way that does not adhere to their personal standards.
There are also, of course, other legal actions that help hosts. One reason Airbnb has seen so much success is because they attract tons of hosts with their insurance policy. The “Host Protection program” insures hosts up to 1 million dollars in damages or injuries.
Hopefully by now, you’re convinced that vacation rentals are for the most part safe. But things don’t always go exactly as planned, and we aren’t talking horror-movie-ax-murderer stuff, just “inconveniences”. While there may not be a word for schadenfreude in English, we still relate to it. So, enjoy a couple of quick highlights from when vacation rentals aren’t “safe” (these are all true stories found on the web):
– One renter in New York state reported that the plumbing was so bad, a plumber in complete scuba gear had to come to their rented home.
– A couple visiting Philly were misled by “the entire place” indicator on their rental. Instead, the host was very much there. Upon their arrival, the host spent a long time showing them all of the “erotic photos” on the walls. She hoped they “set the mood” and let them know she’d be in the room “right next door”…
– What was believed to be a private, romantic night on a boat in Maui quickly changed for one couple. After arriving the host let them know he was having friends over. All of his friends turned out to be nudists.
– “Our apartment was literally a frat house.”
– A family who rented a home in Cape Cod ended up sleeping outside because outside had fewer bugs than their vacation rental.
So, Are Vacation Rentals Safe?
The above horror stories are by no means common. Every single night there are about 2 million people staying in an Airbnb, and that doesn’t even account for all of the other vacation rental sites. As with any company and industry, there will be a few hiccups. Sometimes guests have an unpleasant experience in a vacation rental, but the overwhelming majority of people have never experienced any issues. Nor is there any proof that hotels are any safer than vacation rentals.
On the macro level, vacation rentals have not become a billion dollar industry through sloppy management and horrible experiences. They are meticulous in their design and customer experience. Plus their size and privacy should provide some comfort. Companies and industries want to continue to make money; they also have stock and shareholders to answer to. Because of that, guests can be assured that vacation rental companies take every measure possible to ensure complete safety to protect their business. Remember, when it comes to people’s safety inside of someone else’s home, not all publicity is good publicity.