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[Editorial notes : Startup Roomlion, which is into serviced apartments rental space has a lot to suggest to Airbnb, which has very limited presence in India. Roomlion has accused Airbnb of unethical practices*.]
At Roomlion, we always believe in maintaining positivity while doing business. Arrogance is already quite overrated in India. Yet sometimes it is hard to remain in that zen place in our pursuit of happiness. Especially, when a company of Airbnb’s stature peddles its misfit product by exhibiting blatant unethical behavior. Astonishingly, Airbnb violated those very terms and conditions on RoomLion that are vital to Airbnb’s own existence.
We have always maintained that RoomLion’s inventory in India is far superior to Airbnb. Especially when it comes to suitability for stays of longer than a week. Also our model is far more tailored to guests as well as hosts in India in comparison with Airbnb’s grey-market phoren maal. More on that further down in the post.
Recently we received validation from Airbnb on how much they appreciate RoomLion’s inventory. An employee of Airbnb, created a guest profile on RoomLion with her official Airbnb email address. She then methodically contacted a large number of hosts on RoomLion with the following message:
I would like to talk to you regarding something. Do call me on nine abcd abcd abc abcd abc abcd abc abcd five. Thank you.
When RoomLion’s customer support team noticed this, we assumed that it was a rogue employee at Airbnb that is unknowingly indulging in such behavior. So we sent an email to her and a few people we know at Airbnb. We asked them to cease all solicitation on RoomLion and not continue with any such communication with our hosts. But we never received a response from them. So we decided to check if they are at least doing the right thing after getting caught red handed. Below is a recording of the phone conversation with the employee of Airbnb.
Following is the screenshot from the Airbnb employee as a follow-up to the phone call:
The phone conversation clearly indicates that Airbnb employee knew exactly what she was doing and that it was a violation of RoomLion policy. She admits that she had not contacted the host regarding a reservation but just to solicit his listing for Airbnb. She also admits that she is not working in partnership with RoomLion and that she would rather communicate with the host directly outside the RoomLion system.
Now that Airbnb brought on the above negativity and destroyed our zen place, let us go further into detailing the downsides of using Airbnb in India.
Most hosts charge a premium to guests on Airbnb
In general, reservations on Airbnb cost at least 20% higher than through other channels. In some cases the cost is much higher.
Airbnb is currently more popular among inbound foreigners visiting India rather than domestic travellers within India. This is highlighted even by the Airbnb employee in the above audio recording. So in general hosts try to make more money from foreigners who have greater purchasing power owing to India’s devalued currency.
In fact, we have heard of cases where Airbnb hosts filter reservations from Indian guests and accept those only from foreigners.
Airbnb in India is grey market ka phoren maal
Airbnb has lifted a product built for a different market and offered it as-is in India. This gives a classic grey market ka phoren maal experience to Airbnb users in India.
On Airbnb, even when an Indian user reserves an Indian property, Airbnb round-trips the amount from some other foreign currency. This results in unpredictability for hosts on how much they will end up getting paid until two days after the check-in date (yes, check-in date, not booking date). So hosts end up buffering their prices for any potential forex impact.
Even Airbnb’s process of disbursing the amount to hosts is fraught with problems, involves hefty transaction charges as well as a 7 day delay beyond check-in. This again adds to unpredictability for hosts.
So hosts naturally charge higher prices to guests. We have even heard of incidents when hosts demand guests to pay money at check-in, even when guests have made 100% payment on Airbnb already.
Airbnb is completely DIY – which does not work that well in India
For the most part, Airbnb is a do-it-yourself (DIY) platform. This results in incorrect map locations, misrepresentative pictures, non-responsive hosts and very sparse information about the property.
Several of us at RoomLion have used Airbnb during our overseas travel. And it worked quite well in those situations. But it is just not cut out for India as yet.
Shame on you Airbnb
Airbnb’s revenue from their India business is likely to be a rounding-error in the revenue generated from their global business. So we figured that all the above issues are just teething problems that Airbnb would address before scaling in India. But instead they are playing dirty and behaving unethically by raiding sources of excellent inventory such as RoomLion.
Shame on you Airbnb. Shame on you!
[About RoomLion: RoomLion.com helps guests discover and book temporary housing all across India. Compare us any day with Airbnb (or listings from any other portal) in India and you will find that our model as well as listings are far more suitable for stays of longer than a week.]
* The views / opinions expressed in this belong to Roomlion and not of NextBigWhat.