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What Airbnb gains from making the ‘gotchas’ more visible

360 Magazine 
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What Airbnb gains from making the ‘gotchas’ more visible

This past summer my family and I stayed in a resort hotel while we were on vacation, where we were informed that, due to ongoing pandemic concerns, there would be no housekeeping staff coming by to clean up the rooms.

It’s not that I don’t take COVID-19 seriously, but I had to laugh.

First, we were not told about this change in policy prior to booking our stay. It didn’t come up when we checked in, either. We found out by overhearing a hallway conversation between a guest and a staff person.

Second, there was no difference in the price of our stay despite housekeeping being suspended. For what we were paying, some fresh sheets might have been nice. Then again, at least we weren’t staying at an Airbnb.

Earlier this week, the company best known for disrupting the traditional short-term accommodation sector announced (via social media posts from its co-founder and CEO Brian Chesky) some changes on its platform that would promote greater transparency.

Chesky admitted that he had heard “loud and clear” from Aibnb users that they had stayed with hosts where they were expected to strip beds, vacuum the floors, and even take laundry to off-site facilities. There have also been grumbling about cleaning fees and other charges that are not clearly listed when people are looking at a listing.

All that will now change, with Airbnb users getting to tap a “display total price” button when they look at a property, as well as changes in how pricing is woven into the content that get optimized for SEO. Airbnb will also offer guidance to its hosts on what kind of checkout requests and charges are considered reasonable.

Gotchas as sources of CX friction
There’s a term for these kinds of hidden fees, of course, even if it’s not part of the official customer experience (CX) vernacular. They are the “gotchas” – the unexpected surprises that take away from the perception of value the customer is supposed to have amid an experience.

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Airbnb is hardly alone in being criticized for its gotchas, of course. It’s the same kind of unpleasant feeling that customers have when they try to buy items online and discover that shipping feels can, in some cases, nearly double the final cost.

For other kinds of companies, the gotchas may come in the form of prolonged wait times in order to be served, or the litany of steps involved in processing a return.

This is why Chesky posted on Twitter that “the highest quality homes with the best total prices” will rank higher in Airbnb search listings. While customers may appreciate the gotchas being more visible, they create a different kind of friction in the experience – hidden fees or other extras can make the product or service offering a little uglier, which means every other aspect has to make up for them.

A tougher economy could lead many brands to try and bury some gotchas they introduce in order to curb their expenses (or to discreetly pass them on to customers). They should look to Airbnb as a case study in why doing so is unwise. When the going gets tough, customers who run into gotchas may decide to go somewhere else.

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