Travel tips and advice: Airbnb are removing some negative reviews. Here's why

Some users speculate that Airbnb selectively removes negative reviews to protect its top sellers. Photo: Airbnb

My family visited Hudson, New York, for a couple of days in March for the same reason everyone goes there. It’s a cool little town surrounded by the Hudson Valley and stocked with wonderful food, crafts, shops and people. We used Airbnb.com to rent a place for our stay.

The rental was the only bad part of our visit. Garbage was piled in front of the driveway when we arrived. The patio that looked quaint and cozy online was a mess and ringed with construction equipment. The hot water didn’t work. A load of clothes was in the laundry machine. The pedestal sink in the bathroom needed only a gentle nudge to tip over. The ladder to the loft bedroom was too steep for kids. And so on.

We decided to hang in there and not request a refund. The host was a nice guy, and when I told him about the hot water he called and walked me through a reboot of his system. But my online review of his place – which cited its good location, its kind, communicative host and its disappointments – was mediocre. It was the first poor rating I’ve given to an Airbnb host, and I felt vaguely guilty about it. My wife and I rationalised that away by agreeing that an honest review would help future travellers make better decisions. Besides, most of the reviews of the Hudson property were positive. How much of a difference could ours make?

I forgot about the review until a few days ago, when an Airbnb “resolution support ambassador” emailed me out of the blue to inform me that my evaluation of the Hudson rental violated its “review policy” and was taken down. I looked at the review policy, and nothing I wrote seemed like a transgression. I said I didn’t understand the decision and asked to have a supervisor look at it. My support ambassador said no.

Although Airbnb has weathered criticism for price-gouging, bait-and-switch scams and a stock price that soared and then tumbled since its initial public offering in December, its bookings have boomed over the last year. While the COVID-19 pandemic sideswiped the traditional hotel industry, Airbnb’s portfolio of non-urban lodgings and long-term rentals got a boost from remote work, a rebound in domestic leisure travel and preferences for more intimate home-shares.

With business surging, why bother selectively deleting a bad – but accurate – review? Airbnb is largely meant to be self-regulating, and candid reviews, in theory, help keep everybody honest.

After fishing around for information about how often Airbnb deletes negative reviews, I came across an interesting Quartz article from 2018. It found that some Airbnb users’ negative reviews “were either edited or quietly removed from the site without their knowledge or permission.” Airbnb assured Quartz that its content policy was meant to ensure integrity and that authentic reviews were “critical to building trust.”

Some users have speculated that Airbnb selectively removes negative reviews to protect its top sellers. While the surprisingly ubiquitous online debate about the integrity of Airbnb’s reviews often notes that hosts don’t have the power to have bad reviews removed, that’s not true. Airbnb has a process that allows hosts to appeal negative critiques. I also discovered a robust cottage industry that helps hosts contend with bad reviews. Advisers plying that trade offer how-tos such as “Remove Airbnb Reviews – A Superhost’s Secret Weapon” and “Bad Airbnb Reviews: How to Turn Them into Your Weapon.”

Structuring a public review system that’s foolproof is tricky, and Airbnb has become a continuing lab experiment for academics interested in parsing its data to uncover management insights or sociological takeaways (this recent study is just one interesting example). Still, the reasons Airbnb gave me for removing my review had nothing to do with complexity. Among other things, they said it wasn’t “relevant.” This appears to be a common reason Airbnb gives when it deletes poor reviews.

After Airbnb declined to escalate my query about my deleted review, I told them that I would get in touch with the company directly the next morning. A few hours later, a “senior case manager” on Airbnb’s “escalation desk” messaged me promising to take a closer look. The next day, another “support ambassador” also got involved. Nothing changed. After I contacted Airbnb’s media relations department and said I was interested in doing a column about my experience, a spokesman, Aaron Swor, took quick action.

Airbnb eventually reposted my review, and Swor said the company made a mistake by deleting it. Swor said it was removed after my host in Hudson asked Airbnb to do so. I asked Swor how frequently Airbnb deletes negative reviews, and he said “it happens very rarely.”

“We believe that a healthy review system is one that respects and protects our community’s genuine feedback,” he added. “For that reason, we take the removal of any review very seriously.”

Perhaps that’s true, but Airbnb only seemed to take the removal of my review seriously once it knew I was a journalist. I also asked Swor about suspicions that Airbnb favours its hosts at the expense of its users because the site’s financial interests are aligned with top sellers. “This is not true,” he responded, reiterating that reviews are removed only if they violate the site’s content policy.

I think Airbnb is a great service, but trust is a fragile and fleeting thing. If Airbnb has helped you find a place to stay, read those reviews carefully and ask yourself if anything might have been left out. Or deleted.

TNS


LATEST NEWS

NEWS RELATED

London to New York in 3.5 hours: United aims to bring back supersonic travel with Boom

The Boom supersonic jet would reach speeds higher than 2300 km/h. United Airlines aims to bring back supersonic travel before the decade is over with a plane that is currently just an artist’s drawing – even the prototype hasn’t flown yet. The airline said Thursday that it plans to buy 15…

Read more: London to New York in 3.5 hours: United aims to bring back supersonic travel with Boom

Crystalbrook Kingsley, Newcastle: Game-changing new hotel for Australia's second-oldest city

Newcastle-based EJE Architecture and Melbourne’s Suede Interior Design were charged with the iconic brutalist building’s multi-million-dollar reincarnation. The highly anticipated Crystalbrook Kingsley opening on June 9 in Newcastle’s landmark Roundhouse building is a game-changer for Australia’s second oldest city. The city’s first five star hotel offers sustainable luxury in 130 elegant rooms and…

Read more: Crystalbrook Kingsley, Newcastle: Game-changing new hotel for Australia's second-oldest city

Easyjet passenger boards wrong flight and takes 3000km detour to Gibraltar

Gibraltar International Airport with Gibraltar Rock in the background. Photo: Alamy When Gemma Cargin boarded the EasyJet plane in Manchester, UK, she decided to have a quick nap. After all, it was only a short 40-minute flight to Belfast where her mother was waiting to pick her up. After awaking…

Read more: Easyjet passenger boards wrong flight and takes 3000km detour to Gibraltar

Australia international border closure: Why Australia needs to reopen its international borders now

Emotional arrivals at Auckland airport. First “bubble” flight to New Zealand. JQ201 taking off at 6:15am will be the first non quarantined flight from Australia to New Zealand since the borders closed across both countries because of the COVID-19 outbreak Photo Nick Moir 19 April 2021 Photo: Nick Moir It…

Read more: Australia international border closure: Why Australia needs to reopen its international borders now

How we developed a 'hypersexualised' image of flight attendants

Kaley Cuoco, in HBO’s ‘The Flight Attendant’. There’s something about flight attendants. The job’s mystique has made it a pop culture perennial, most recently in HBO’s buzzy mystery-thriller, The Flight Attendant, whose convoluted plot hinges on the title character’s mobility. Although the job is an increasingly demanding one that has changed…

Read more: How we developed a 'hypersexualised' image of flight attendants

Trans-Tasman bubble could be expanded to include the Pacific

Fiji could be one of the countries included in an expansion of the trans-Tasman bubble. Photo: Supplied New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has turned her focus on the Pacific in the next steps of expanding the trans-Tasman bubble, Stuff.co.nz reports. Ardern met Prime Minister Scott Morrison in Queenstown on…

Read more: Trans-Tasman bubble could be expanded to include the Pacific

No alcohol on plane for Southwest Airlines passengers till end of July

Southwest have ditched plans to restart serving alcohol, following a recent surge in disruptive behaviour from passengers. Photo: AP Southwest Airlines said on Friday it will not resume alcohol services on board until the end of July, ditching its plans to restart next month, following a recent surge in in-flight…

Read more: No alcohol on plane for Southwest Airlines passengers till end of July

Qantas vaccine incentives: CEO Alan Joyce reveals 'mega-prize' for vaccinated passengers

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – DECEMBER 15: The first commercial flight of the Qantas Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft takes off from Tullamarine Airport on December 15, 2017 in Melbourne, Australia. The new Boeing 787 Dreamliner took off from Melbourne to Los Angeles beginning a new era for the Australian airline. (Photo by…

Read more: Qantas vaccine incentives: CEO Alan Joyce reveals 'mega-prize' for vaccinated passengers

Qantas Chairman's Lounge: Inside the invite-only club that rejected Jacqui Lambie

Qantas plan to reward vaccinated passengers with points, vouchers

Emirates flight EK501: A Boeing 777 can hold more than 350 passengers, but this flight had just one

Supermoon eclipse, May 26 2021: Qantas passengers get sky-high view of supermoon eclipse

Family walks 2300km along Te Araroa Trail, New Zealand from north to south

Welcome to 'Little Island', New York's newest park with killer views

COVID-19 pandemic delays completion of Spain's Sagrada Familia beyond 2026

Southwest Airlines flight attendant loses two teeth after passenger assault

OTHER NEWS