Skift Take

From a technical standpoint, Airbnb already has the ability to show the total price up-front. Clamping down on host-set cleaning fees would create a firestorm — among hosts.

Some 17 months after Global Head of Hosting Catherine Powell designated a team to review Airbnb’s fee structure and the way it displays fees to travelers, CEO Brian Chesky tweeted that redesigning pricing for an Airbnb stay is a top priority.

In responding to a fintech investor on Twitter who complained that sometimes Airbnb prices nearly double because of fees when it comes time to pay compared to the initially displayed nightly rate, Chesky tweeted Monday: “You are correct — the cleaning fees were never intentionally designed, which is why we’re now playing catch up. This is one of my top priorities — we are redesigning how pricing on Airbnb works.”

Chesky’s tweets, which kicked off last week with a shoutout to Apple co-founder Steve Jobs about the primacy of user experience, came as Airbnb has received a torrent of criticism about its cleaning fees, which are set by hosts.

The Wall Street Journal published a story last month, Welcome to Your Airbnb, the Cleaning Fees Are $143 and You Still Have to Wash the Linens. The story detailed sometimes-outrageously high cleaning fees that come despite the fact that some hosts have lists of chores for guests to perform before checkout, including washing dishes, taking out the garbage, and “being asked to mow the lawn or feed farm animals.”

“You don’t want to wake up at 6 a.m. to do chores when you’re on vacation,” the story quoted a Sacramento, California school teacher as saying. “This kind of changes the whole vibe. It’s stressful.”

This reporter was once chastised post-stay by a host for leaving some dishes in the sink to soak instead of washing them, and for not placing the pool chairs back into the precise position they were in at the beginning of the stay.

Chesky claimed the way fees get displayed on Airbnb just sort of happened organically over the years.

After the press release 17 months ago that Powell had picked a team to review Airbnb’s fee policies, the company announced more than a year ago, in September 2021, that Powell’s team was conducting a “comprehensive review of our platform” and that Airbnb would begin testing new ways to display pricing that would be more transparent to guests.

“In the coming weeks, we will be testing a number of different ways to display pricing that have emerged from this review process,” Airbnb stated in September 2021. “As part of this test, you will see new pricing explanations and, in some cases, banners denoting upfront pricing where we have the tests running.”

But the process is apparently ongoing almost a year-and-a-half after the review formally began, and Chesky tweeted Monday it’s one of his chief concerns.

A Business Issue, Not a Tech Obstacle

It wouldn’t be an overly difficult technical issue for Airbnb to show the total charges in initial search results: It already does so in Europe, where the European Commission requires it. Instead it is a business issue.

Airbnb has multiple challenges in revamping the way it displays pricing.  First, Airbnb wants the nightly rate to be competitive with rivals’ rates in search and elsewhere, although currently Airbnb’s pricing isn’t transparent because it doesn’t include service fees charged to guests, taxes, and cleaning charges.

Let’s be clear: Competitors, for the most part, outside of Europe likewise aren’t transparent up-front about the final price.

Secondly, some hosts view cleaning fees – which have been rising because of a slew of factors, including the labor shortage and inflation – as a profit center, so Airbnb doesn’t want to alienate hosts. There would be an outcry from hosts if Airbnb limits their ability to set cleaning fees.

Chesky tweeted that Airbnb has numerous potential solutions, including a filter that would display all taxes and fees, “but we are working on more holistic solutions, as well.”

Airbnb declined to elaborate on Chesky’s tweets.

Note: This story has been updated to include information about all-in price displays in Europe, and the business versus technology questions that a fee revamp would entail.

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Tags: airbnb, future of lodging, guest experience

Photo credit: An Airbnb kitchen in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. Skift

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