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Airbnb Facing Struggles

Critics say model allows for extra fees not usually charged by B&Bs

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

Patty Bean, travel agent and owner of Bean Cruises and Travel in Rochester, sits with her granddaughter at Disney World in Florida. She says that unlike B&Bs and hotels, “an Airbnb doesn’t have a strict set of standards that a hotel or resort needs to follow.”

Founded in 2008, Airbnb quickly became a darling among travelers seeking an inexpensive lodging with many of the same amenities of a traditional B&B. The company quickly spread worldwide and established offices in numerous other countries.

Although initially a boon for price-conscious travelers, Airbnb has struggled recently with criticism from those booking.

One sore spot is rising rates and surprise fees. The business model allows the host to set rates, so tacking on extra fees for cleaning — sometimes without guests’ knowledge — has turned off some travelers to Airbnb.

“At a bed-and-breakfast, this is the price and there are no hidden fees,” said Linda Tarbox, owner of 1880 House in Pulaski.

Thirty-three years in the business, she believes that business is looking up for the B&B business, which she believes is built on relationships. She has seen some visitors come as children and decades later as adults.

“That’s what I love about it,” Tarbox said. “You become friends with so many people. I’ve really enjoyed this business all these years. I know what my customers like. All I can say is we all feel the same way: it’s like family coming back to visit for a few days.”

Joy Moody, innkeeper and owner of Merriam Vincent Guest House in Oswego, said her guests prefer staying at a conventional B&B because “they don’t need to clean and the pick-up is done for them. They prefer a B&B because it’s more convenient.”

She distinguishes her lodging by offering all organic foods, cleaning with natural products and using a water filtration system that removes chlorine from the water.

Another complaint about Airbnb is the nuisance factor.

Many people renting out a room or a house to tourists live in neighborhoods not necessarily zoned for this kind of business. Homeowners near the Airbnb may frequently find their street jammed with tourists’ vehicles. Or the visitors may interrupt an otherwise quiet night’s sleep with a party.

Since Airbnb hosts may not be set up with adequate parking or enforce typical B&B policies about noise and the size of groups renting, their neighbors may feel frustrated that the ambiance of their community has shifted.

Unlike B&Bs, some Airbnb hosts do not even live at the property. In fact, the lure of renting the whole property is often an attractive factor for people renting Airbnb properties.

“We have four rooms, so we have only up to eight guests,” Moody said. “We have a nice veranda where they can sit on the porch. It’s a quiet, serene area. The house is on the historic registry.”

Rising reports of crime have also marred Airbnb’s reputation. In August 2021, California teen Elias Elhania was killed while at an Airbnb. CBS News also shared that although against official Airbnb policies, the renter hosted a party with 200 in attendance at the property, mainly minors drinking alcohol.

“I’ve read some horror stories about Airbnbs,” said Patty Bean, travel agent and owner of Bean Cruises and Travel in Rochester. “A woman was murdered at one in Costa Rica. Some have put hidden cameras in them.”

She explained that unlike B&Bs and hotels, “an Airbnb doesn’t have a strict set of standards that a hotel or resort needs to follow.”

Airbnbs also often lack the on-site supervision that conventional lodging usually provides.

Bean prefers lodging that includes housekeeping and, with B&Bs and hotels with restaurants, meals.

“For most people, they do that drudgery every day of their lives,” Bean said. “Why would they want to do that on vacation?”