If you’re an Airbnb host you may be familiar with this (rather baffling) situation. A guest books in to your property and you do everything in your power to meet their expectations. Like a successful first date, you hit it off; things go well, and as far as you can tell, they’ve had a great time. But then something unexpected happens: the guest leaves you a glowing written review, accompanied by a four-star rating.
You’re left scratching your head and wondering why, if everything was as described and the guests had no particular problems, they decided to demerit you that one precious star.
This situation underscores the one biggest problem with the Airbnb review system that causes hosts headaches time and again. Fundamentally, it’s a lack of clarity around what the star rating system actually means. Let’s have a look at why the problem occurs.
All travellers are familiar with the hotel rating system. Five stars are only granted to hotels that earn the label of luxury — so when you book into one, you know you can expect facilities like 24-hour room service, concierge, on-site gourmet dining, and one of those fluffy white bathrobes to lounge around in. The hotel star rating system works because its a reasonably standardised short-hand code for what a hotel will and won’t supply and what you can expect from your stay. It also reflects fairly consistently in the price.
Airbnb, on the other hand, is a completely different beast. Each property is highly unique and can’t easily be compared to the next. While top notch service in a hotel might consist of someone calling you “sir” or “madame” and turning back your sheets at night, the best and most memorable Airbnb experience might happen in a modest home in rural Italy where the host cooked you the best ever home-made cannelloni and treated you like one of the family. Such an experience might cost little and fall far outside the hotel industry definition of “luxury”, but it most certainly warrants five stars.
Unfortunately, many Airbnb guests fail to understand this distinction. Rather than be based upon what it does or doesn’t include, the Airbnb stars should be awarded on whether or nor the property met expectations. Did it supply everything it said it would supply? Was the location as listed? Did everything go smoothly and without problems? If so, it was probably a five-star stay. Because Airbnb properties are not hotels, and they should be judged relative to their price and the expectations they generate.
Most Airbnb guests also, to no fault of their own, have little understanding of how damaging four-star (or lower) reviews are to hosts. The stars a listing has not only influences whether or not other people will choose to book it, but also impacts its position in Airbnb search results. Hosts can even end up in a position where they don’t want to accept a guest because, based on the guest’s previous reviews, they anticipate they’ll be left with less than five stars even if everything goes right.
So what can be done about this small but significant headache for hosts? Perhaps it comes down to Airbnb clearly wording their review system to make it clear to guests that if a host did everything in their power to meet expectations they should be awarded five stars — even if the property wasn’t dripping in hotel-style luxury. And if you’re a host, naturally it's your job to manage your property well and give your guests the experience they’ve signed up for. After all, differences in perspective aside, you still have to earn those precious little stars.